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Leaders consider 5 percent raise for town employees

The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a preliminary budget for 2012-2013 that includes a 5 percent pay increase for town employees. The budget does not, however, include the funding of new positions within the town.
“There’s only so much money,” said Vice Mayor Terry Countermine during budget discussions at a called BMA meeting on May 31. “Which is more important — getting compensation up where it should be or hiring new employees?”
Members of the BMA unanimously approved adjusting the town’s employee pay classifications to give the 5 percent raise, a move Countermine wholeheartedly supports.
“This is something we’ve talked about for a long time,” he said. “Our employees certainly deserve it.”
Leaders have long discussed the need to adjust the town’s pay scale in order to offer more competitive salaries to its employees.
“The idea has been that the first priority is to take care of our existing staff,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “This won’t put them at the same level as other similar areas, but they are going to be a lot more competitive.”
While Alderman Chuck Vest supported the pay increase, he also spoke up in favor of adding another patrol officer to the town’s police force.
“As our town grows and prospers, we need to be sure we serve our residents as far as doing investigations in a timely manner,” Vest said. “We have quite a number of outstanding cases.”
Town Operations Manager Craig Ford affirmed Vest’s claim, telling BMA members the department’s single investigator, Maj. Matt Rice, has too heavy of a caseload.
“At last count, Maj. Rice had 120 cases that he is working,” Ford said. “It is impossible to do those cases justice when you’re just one person. You have victims of crime who suffer because you can’t investigate their cases properly.”
To improve investigations, Police Chief Matt Hawkins is requesting money to hire an additional patrol officer.
The idea is to hire the new patrol officer at a lower pay than an investigator’s salary would be, then rotate patrol officers into the investigation division for stints of either six months or a year.
Those patrol officers will be able to gain valuable experience while assisting Rice with cases, Ford explained.
“It cannot be done without adding that new patrolman,” Ford said. “Most of the time the police department struggles to have two officers on per shift.”
The police department isn’t the only department hoping to add positions.
Senior Center Director Joan Miller asked the BMA to consider funding an additional employee for her department, too.
“I understand the town is tight with money, but I ask that the town consider it,” Miller said. “We have a wonderful volunteer base and we have just about wore them out because we use them all the time. We’ve just got so many things we’ve got to contend with.”
Town staff will return to the BMA during their second reading of the budget with a cost analysis for adding the patrol officer as well as the numbers associated with hiring someone at the Senior Center.
“I don’t know of a department head that’s been asked for a position that’s not been warranted,” Ford said. “But when you look at the General Fund, there’s only so much money there.”
At their next budget meeting, BMA members will also look at a variety of project costs to be considered as part of the budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year.