GARY — The city’s administration plans on sticking with its decision to limit raises to those employees making less than $40,000 annually, outside of police and firefighters, despite some council members’ desire to give all employees a smaller raise.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said some have proposed a 3 percent to 5 percent raise for everyone rather than the 10 percent raise for those making less than $40,000. She said, however, that the administration believes that the 10 percent raise for those in the lower salary range “is the most equitable and affordable solution.”
Ellis Bryant Sr., who works for the city’s General Services Department, urged the council at a public hearing Tuesday to pass the budget calling for the 10 percent raise. Some of the employees have reportedly not seen salary increases for more than a decade.
“We are just trying to pay our bills and trying to stay in our homes and every little bit helps,” he said.
Freeman-Wilson said the lower paid workers in general services include those who remove snow, clean dumpsites, trim trees, fill potholes, and clear up public spaces. The number of these employees, she said, has shrunken over the past 10 years from 150 to 23 people. She is seeking to add two additional workers in this department in the coming year.
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Employee Mary Mulligan, who will not receive an increase under the proposal, said she was thankful that some other workers were going to be getting a pay increase, but she wishes all employees could get a raise. Former mayoral candidate Jim Nowacki complained about the large amount of money being paid to consultants, while the city has some employees ‘begging to get out of poverty.”
The City Council has only limited ability to raise salaries. Rinzer Williams, who serves as attorney for the council, said council members can only raise the salaries of police, firefighters, and themselves. Hammond council members received the same message from their attorney the other day when a council member suggested increasing employee salaries above what the Hammond administration proposed.
Final action on the city’s budget ordinances — including salaries for employees in general services, local roads and streets, motor vehicle highway, and parks — is expected to take place by Nov. 1.
Freeman-Wilson’s proposed budget does call for a $2,500 increase in the salaries of police and firefighters. The raise is the last phase of a three-year increase in pay for those employees. Their pay was increased by $2,500 in 2015 and another $5,000 this year.