3rd yearly salary freeze draws fire

A proposal to continue a freeze on city workers' salaries for a third straight year came under fire at Monday's public hearing on Statesville's proposed $86.5million budget for fiscal 2011-12.

One speaker said the salary freeze would be a de facto pay cut.

"Our municipal workers are the core of the city's energy, and they are suffering as their salaries remain stable while other expenses increase," said resident Ron Moore. "I believe Statesville can do better."

Property tax rates, electric rates and a number of city fees will increase beginning July 1 if the City Council adopts the proposed budget. No money, however, was allocated for salary increases for the city's 500 employees.

It would be the third consecutive year city salaries have been frozen.

"Previously a 3.5percent standard performance pay increase was standard council policy for all employees performing at an expected level," said City Manager Rob Hites. "However, due to the current economic climate, we are not recommending any pay increase for the third consecutive year. This yields a total budget savings of about $635,000."

Moore, who has never worked for the city, said he was speaking for city workers who were upset with the proposal but weren't comfortable testifying at the hearing.

Iredell County school officials also testified, seeking the city's help in funding school resource officers for Statesville Middle and High schools. Superintendent Brady Johnson urged the council to fund the positions "even if for just one year, to help get us through these tough economic times."

Mayor Costi Kutteh indicated that during a series of workshops, the council would review the details of the budget proposal and consider comments made at the May 16 hearing. Under state law, the budget must be adopted by July 1.

The council took the following other actions Monday:

Appropriated $35,000 more to pay fees associated with online utility bill payments, which began in August. "The level and volume of payments have been higher than anticipated; consequently, the merchant fees for debit and credit card processing are higher," city Finance Director Lisa Salmon said.

Accepted a $250 donation from Gordon Iron & Metal. The money will go to the Statesville Fire Department's Fire & Life Safety Program to buy smoke detectors to provide early fire notification for residential property owners.

Unanimously approved a resolution opposing N.C. Senate Bill 731, under consideration in Raleigh, which would establish uniform statewide zoning/design standards and aesthetic controls. The bill would "essentially remove the power of local governments to determine the architectural future of the community," City Manager Hites said.