Employee salaries continue to be the focus of the discussions of the Town of Ocean View’s draft budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
At the town council’s monthly meeting on March 14, council members voiced their desire to ensure employees receive fair, competitive pay.
Councilman Frank Twardzik said he was concerned that the morale of the Town’s employees is “sitting on a razor’s edge right now” due to the recent salary study and the uncertainty of what it means for their paychecks.
Mayor Walter Curran stated that the updated salary study, which was recently reviewed by the council, does not promote step increases or longevity increases, but merit-based increases.
“The concept is that the average employee, regardless of department, should be able to reach that midpoint by X number of years,” he said. “It’s a formula for doing that…
“Whatever adjustments we make here, doesn’t mean that if you’ve been here for 20 years, you’ll automatically take a quantum leap.”
Curran said that, although the council had requested the Town’s overall salaries increase by 6 percent in the 2018 budget, it does not mean that every employee will receive a pay increase.
Twardzik said the employees are the Town’s most valuable asset and should be compensated as such.
“I think the quality of their work speaks for themselves,” he said. “We have a law-enforcement periodical that called our police department the ‘gold standard for small police departments.’ We’re the second-safest town in the state of Delaware. My goal here is to do the right thing for the employee.”
Twardzik said he believes the Town could find money for salary adjustments, which he said he believes should be separate from merit raises.
“My goal is to look the employee in the eye and say, ‘This is the best we can do.’”
“I don’t think anyone on this council wants to be a part of another empty promise to these employees,” added Councilman Tom Maly. “They’ve been loyal to us, and we need to be loyal to them.”
The council agreed that they would like to see a 10 percent increase in all salaries reflected in the next draft budget, again noting that that does not mean all employees should expect a pay increase.
“No matter what number that you pick, it is still going to be up to the total discretion of the department heads to fix the individual problems,” said Curran. “We absolutely don’t want anybody to believe they are going to get 10 percent across the board.”
Town Manager Dianne Vogel informed the council that, with that 10 percent increase, she would have to find an additional $82,000.
Vogel also noted that department heads did not fully understand how the salary study’s formula worked.
“Nobody knew how to interpret the study until the last few days. It couldn’t be explained to anybody, because no one knew how to do it,” noted Public Works Director Charles McMullen.
Finance Director Sandra Peck, who has previously worked in human resources, said it’s important to communicate to employees how the system works.
“It has to be honest,” she said. “The communication is essential for any system to be successful.”
Along with staff that always attends council meetings, four additional employees sat in on the meeting but declined to make public comment.
“Don’t just sit back and guess. If you’re unsure of something… If you have a question, come to your department head and get the answer,” advised Curran.
Resident Steve Cobb said he believed the employees deserved a pay increase, and if the council were to vote on the budget that evening, as drafted, he would implore them to vote against it.
“I believe that our greatest asset is our employees,” he said. “We’ve had three salary studies over the last six years, and we’ve never really implemented what their recommendation is…
“To me, our biggest capital is our employees and, for years, they have been promised things... and it has not come.”
Cobb said the Town should wait to see what Gov. John Carney’s budget will be when it’s released on March 28. He also offered to help the Town in any way as it works through the process.
A budget workshop is scheduled for March 28 at 7 p.m. The Town must adopt its 2018-fiscal-year budget by the April 11 council meeting.
In other town news:
• The council unanimously approved an $80,000 grant request from the Millville Volunteer Fire Company to replace outdated portable radios and purchase fire gear.
• The council unanimously approved to change the tax status of 40 West Avenue to tax-exempt, at the request of the Ocean View Historical Society. The property was donated to the society and is the future home of the Coastal Towns Museum.
• The Ocean View Historical Society will host an open house and dedication ceremony of the Evan-West House on Saturday, April 22, at 4:30 p.m. The plaque declaring the home’s position on the National Register of Historic Places will be unveiled, and those in attendance may also enjoy refreshments.
• Officer First Class Brian Caselli and Officer AnnMarie Dalton of the Ocean View Police Department were recognized at the 2017 Valor Awards for their efforts during a dangerous high-speed pursuit in December 2016 that crossed state lines.
“That was very well-deserved,” said OVPD Capt. Heath Hall.
• The OVPD will participate in the DEA’s semi-annual Drug Takeback Day on Saturday, April 29. Community members are being invited to turn in their unused or expired medications to the police department to be safely disposed of, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
• The council proclaimed April 2, 2017, as Sarah Lydic Day. Lydic, a student at Lord Baltimore Elementary School, will compete in the National Drive, Pitch & Putt contest finals at Augusta National Golf Club on April 2.
“It is the goal of this community to support the citizens of our town whenever possible, recognizing the value of their efforts to enhance and expand opportunities for growth in all things,” Curran said, reading the proclamation.