The Greensboro City Council actually discussed the city budget at the work session on Tuesday, June 9.
This may not sound like news, but since the present City Council was elected in 2017 it has never discussed the budget in any depth at a work session or council meeting. The revenue shortfall, caused mainly by a significant drop in sales tax revenue, put this City Council in a position where it did not have all the money it wanted to spend and, in the current economic environment, raising taxes was not considered an option.
Part of that budget discussion was about how much of a raise to give city employees.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower has been lobbying for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all city employees for years, and this year Hightower prevailed. It has been the long time practice of the City of Greensboro to give merit raises instead of across the board or COLA raises.
The budget recommended by City Manager David Parrish included a 1.5 percent COLA for all city employees and Hightower said, “I would love to do 3 percent. Some of the employees want a 3 percent.”
Budget and Evaluation Director John Decker gave a presentation that noted that Guilford County had revised its projected increase in property values, which will result in an additional $1.6 million in the city’s estimated property tax revenue and allow the city to increase the cost of living raise raise to 2 percent without additional reductions in spending. Each 0.5 percent increase in the COLA costs the city about $500,000.
The consensus of the City Council was for the 2 percent COLA.
The City Council constantly compares itself to “peer” cities in the state in areas like property tax, water rates, employee benefits and just about every other metric there is.
But in providing in providing a COLA for employees this year Greensboro stands alone. According to the budget presentation not a single peer city in North Carolina is giving their employees a COLA and that comparison includes High Point, Charlotte, Wilmington, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Asheville, Cary, Durham, Greenville, Winston-Salem and also Guilford County.
Fayetteville, Asheville, Cary, Durham, Greenville and Winston-Salem are offering no raises for employees in their budgets.
The other cities have included a 2 percent to 4 percent average merit increase, which is the normal practice for Greensboro where the supervisors determine the amount of the raise each employee receives within the parameters set by the city.
The City Council directed Parrish to include a 2 percent cost of living increase for city employees in the budget the City Council plans to pass at its meeting on Tuesday, June 16, but Hightower never stopped talking about 3 percent and she might get it.