FALLS CITY — The city of Falls City adopted its budget on June 10 with a recommendation from the city’s budget committee that it look for ways to increase employee salaries in the future.
Employees received a 2.35 percent cost-of-living increase in the 2019-20 budget, but budget committee member Dana Schowalter questioned if, those employees’ salaries lag behind what workers in similar positions elsewhere are paid.
City Manager Mac Corthell said a public works director with the same training and certifications as Falls City’s would make significantly more money in Dallas or Independence. Additionally, he said the public works employees are not paid as much as he would like them to be.
“That’s a big problem. It’s hard for us to be able to afford more,” Corthell said. “One of the things we do to offset that though, is we are really good about benefits.”
Corthell said he tries to make up for that by making city hall employee friendly and offering flexibility when workers need time off.
“Long-term, it’s another issue we’ve got to address,” Corthell said. “We are OK for now, and I think there might be a potential to increase some wage rates as some of the expected positions start to retire.”
He said he may merge a public works position with the code enforcement post and bring wages up.
“They are probably not going to get all the way to where you would be in a Dallas or a Salem, but I think with the offsetting benefits and ability to work where you live hopefully we are able to retain people that way,” Corthell said.
Corthell said one of his goals in preparing the budget is to correct inconsistent practices used in the past.
“This budget reflects an effort to form a base line from which to judge the overall fiscal health of our city,” Corthell wrote in his budget message. “Expanding needs, pending staff transitions, decline of real value of revenue streams, and irregular budgeting practices have combined to draw the curtains on our fiscal realities. The budget seeks to pull back the curtains on the realities of each program so the tough decisions can be identified, deliberated, planned and acted on.”
Corthell said he created a shared services fund to account for equipment, services and supplies used by multiple departments. He said the accounting was muddy in the past, and may have charged one department too much and others too litle.
“It’s not as nefarious as it sounds, but it was worth highlighting. Basically, there was not a standardized method with which to allocate split expenses,” he said. “It wasn’t someone doing something wrong.”
He said now costs are attributed on a proportional basis and can be adjusted if needed. The money in this fund is transferred from the appropriate department, Corthell said.
He said that he tried to use the best estimates possible in each department fund to show how much spending is needed, a practice not always used before.
Each fund now has a contingency, Corthell said.
“It hasn’t in years past, even when one might have been available,” he said.
Having a contingency — instead of allocating beyond what might be needed — adds an extra step of going before the council to request more if costs are more than anticipated, Corthell said.
“I think that that’s what local budget law was meant to do,” he said. “It’s supposed to come back before the public if you are going outside of what you really need.”
The budget committee approved the budget unanimously, but requested that salaries be reviewed.
“It’s nice to know that there’s an appetite in the public that some change can occur and that it would be supported by people,” Corthell said. “That gives me the confidence ... to start looking at alternatives and really figuring out how to help.”
Mayor Jeremy Gordan said the committee could include in its recommendation that the council hold a work session.
Budget committee member Amy Houghtaling said the city should gather comparisons from other small cities.
“Comparing to Dallas is different than … comparing to all the other small cities,” Houghtaling said. “It’s different, sadly, even though we have to follow all the same regulations and rules.”
Falls City’s total budget is $2.8 million, and the general fund is $565,180. The council adopted the budget unanimously.