Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Hopewell budgets OK'd with 2% raises
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
May 29, 2014, 13:44

HOPEWELL — Within days of each other, the City of Hopewell and then the Hopewell City Public Schools passed their budgets for fiscal year 2014-2015. Both budgets include the funding of new positions and a 2 percent cost of living increase. 

At a meeting on Tuesday night, City Council approved the $119 million budget for the city. The budget includes a 2 percent cost of living increase as well as the funding of four new positions, which includes two positions for the sheriff’s department. 

Jerry Whitaker, finance director for the city, said though the budget process took longer than anticipated, the budget for the city is balanced. 

Two employees from public works spoke at the meeting Tuesday night, expressing concern over the rising cost of health insurance without rising numbers reflected in their paychecks. 

“What is going on is hurting your employees in so many ways that you guys don’t even know,” said Dewey Collins, with public works. “The cost of living increase isn’t really helping us much but the insurance is going up.” 

Last week, council unanimously approved the 2 percent cost of living increase instead of funding the health insurance increase. The cost of living increase will be funded through the unassigned fund balance. The cost of living increase will cost $279,000 for city employees and $544,000 for school employees, totaling $823,000. 

The pay increase will cost much less than the earlier proposal from council of paying the entire health insurance increase, which would have cost $1.2 million.

“I have to ask guys on the streets to go out and ever growing responsibility without ever growing pay and some of these guys are just barely making ends meet,” said Randy Hicks, with public works. “And the cost of insurance rising as steeply as it does, the lack of raises throughout the years is becoming more and more, and as a supervisor it becomes even harder to ask those guys to keep going out and putting out and doing more and more when they feel like they’re not gaining and not being appreciated.” 

Vice Mayor Jasmine Gore told the two employees that though council is sympathetic to their situation, the 2 percent is better in the long run, noting that had council paid the entire health care increase, it would have been one-time cash funds, which carried the uncertainty that those same funds would be available next year. 

She added that then the employees would be “hit even harder” next year by possibly having to pay the entire increase. 

“I do understand we’re going to be losing people, I know to other localities,” Councilor Jackie Shornak said. “We did feel the 2 percent would help you more in the long run.” 

Director of Human Resources Gail Vance, said even with the 2 percent increase there are a number of employees that will still see a decrease in their pay due to the increase in health insurance.

The Hopewell School Board also had their employees’ best interests in mind when preparing and passing their final budget this week. The board applied the 2 percent increase to each salary scale in the division as well as increasing the starting pay for first year teachers. 

Monique Barnes, director of finance for the division, said the starting pay for teachers is now “closer” to the surrounding localities. 

“We did model some of the other school divisions so that you start at a higher rate and you keep that rate during your first three years,” Superintendent Dr. John Fahey said at the meeting Wednesday afternoon. 

As the teachers enters into the third year of teaching, the pay increases. For example, a teacher at 240 school days, will start at $49,198 and then increase to $49,881 at the start of the third year. The first year for teachers entering into the division is considered “step zero” reflecting no teaching experience. 

The budget for the division also includes two new positions, which were approved by city council. 

The budget was passed unanimously by all board members present at the meeting. 

With the budget season coming to a close in Hopewell, Mayor Mike Bujakowski said the council unanimously supported giving raises to city and school employees. 

“In the last four budgets, we have either given bonuses or raises to city and school employees and no other locality in this region has done that,” he said. 

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