Raises for city employees talked

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Gibson: We need to stop the bleeding

Howell "Howie" Dennis is the news editor for The Crowley Post-Signal. He can be reached at howie.dennis@crowleytoday.com or 337-783-3450.

A special meeting of the Crowley City Council’s Revenue and Finance Committee was held Thursday afternoon to consider a proposed pay increase for the city’s employees.
Crowley Police Chief K.P. Gibson, Crowley Fire Chief Jody Viator and Street Department Head Gilbert Onezine were present to learn how proposals might affect their departments.
Gibson has been the most outspoken on the topic, having lost several officers recently to neighboring departments such as Scott and Duson, who, he explained, are able to pay higher salaries.
After greeting those in attendance, Revenue and Finance Committee Chairman Elliot Doré, after having looked at the city’s budget, said that the 25 percent raise that was on the agenda at the city council’s last meeting “ain’t happening.”
Doré stated that realistically the council would, at best, be able to offer somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 percent.
“In 2006, our city had a revenue balance of $3.7 million,” he said. “In August of 2013, we had $1.7 million,” he said. “The city has not been as fortunate with increasing revenue.”
It was noted that, with the beginning of construction of the impending service road north of I-10, things could change for the better.
“But until such time, we stand where we’re at,” said Doré.
Gibson stressed that with his officers leaving for higher-paying positions, “we don’t have time to wait.”
Gibson seemed frustrated by the fact that his department is projected to have $712,000 at the end of the fiscal year from of his department’s share of the city’s 2.5-cent sales tax.
“However, he is unable to use it to give his officers a pay raise to compete with area municipalities due to the fact the funding is dedicated — in other words, how this money is used is determined by the voters.
“The key to this is finding out a way to be able to tap into this $700,000,” he said.
It was suggested that an election be held to give residents the choice of giving the city more flexibility in how the money is spent.
“Everyone has taken notice of the violence that has taken place in the city recently,” he said. “We’ve had officers get shot at six times recently and I haven’t seen this type of violence since I took office.
“When they have a chance to leave for a smaller, less violent town like Duson I honestly can’t say I blame them.
“They’ll stay with us for a year until their contract is up then leave,” he said. “Our turnover rate is greater than the other departments (fire and street maintenance).”
“At least the other cities are getting well-trained officers,” quipped Captain Troy Perry.
“I understand the funding problems,” said Gibson. “I’m looking for a solution. We’re losing officers to towns like Scott and Duson that run on smaller budgets. I’ve already got officers working overtime.”
Mayor Greg Jones pointed out that Crowley —and Acadia Parish as a whole — is currently in a neutral area with Lafayette Parish to the east and Calcasieu to the east.
“We and Jeff Davis Parish are in the middle without as much revenue and I’m hoping the service road will change that,” said Jones. “But if you look to the north and the south we are paying our employees somewhere along the same line.”
There were other ideas that were suggested to help raise revenue that could help the police and other city employees. Among them were:
• Raising property taxes. (The property sales tax of 32.5 mills hasn’t changed in 25 years.)
• A millage election.
• Increasing the sales tax.
There will be more discussion of the issue during the next Crowley City Council meeting on May 12.