Newly elected Lowell Mayor Larry Simonds bought 300 hotdogs and all the fixings for a Saturday benefit he sponsored to help public works employees he feels are underpaid.
From 1 until 4 p.m., people dropped by the city recreation center to show their support for employees and make donations. Along with free hotdogs and homemade chili, there was also time to visit. About 300 attended, and Simonds said they donated $1,200, including cash, checks and gift cards. He said the donations will be split among the seven employees.
Although the employees have benefits, he said they’re still the lowest paid in Gaston County, making as low as $10.50 per hour.
“That’s terrible. Some qualify for food stamps,” said Simonds, 59, who took office in December. “To me, it’s a crime to pay a little bit of a salary to someone who’s busting their butt taking care of everything.”
Simonds has served three times on the Lowell City Council, and this is his fourth time in the mayor’s seat. In the November election, he defeated Judy Horne, who had served as mayor for 10 years.
Simonds has been at odds with the current council on such issues as closed sessions, which he opposes.
Before Simonds began serving his two-year term as mayor, the City Council had approved an across-the-board pay raise for the city’s 24 employees. The raises took effect in January.
Simonds objected, saying people in upper pay brackets would get larger increases than those on the bottom. The salary range for the public works employees runs from $21,000 a year to $26,000, he said. Their pay increases amounted to about $600 a year, a raise up to around $12 per hour.
In contrast, Simonds said City Manager Al Greene’s increase was $2,100.
Simonds suggested dividing the 3 percent increase and giving all 24 city employees $1,000 raises. But he said the majority on City Council shot down the idea.
He called Saturday’s benefit a way for the public to show their appreciation for the public works team.
John Karagiannopoulos and his wife, Aura, came by to support employees and Simond’s effort.
“All these people need a little more money,” said John Karagiannopoulos, 80. “We’re here to help them.”
Kathy Messer, 73, wanted to thank the employees in person “and let them know we care about them.”
“Their job takes endurance, and they need to be rewarded,” she said. “What would we do if we didn’t have trash people?”
Sanitation department employee Ponie Sistrunk, 50, appreciated the turnout. “We love what we do, and the people of the town take care of us,” he said. “This is my town, and I want to keep it looking the best I can.”