Cooperative explains difference in rates

Ocean View’s public safety, administrative and public works departments took another hit on Tuesday before the town’s Long Range Financial Planning Committee voted 5-1 to approve the new, top-down budget it will present to council on March 14.

Councilman Bill Wichmann was the only member to vote against the proposed 2007 budget, which lowers salary increases for town employees for the next six years but would also lower the 2012 tax increase by 3 percent.

“My fear is that we’re going to lose people,” Wichmann said. “We can’t just keep pushing numbers. What happens when people say ‘I don’t have to live under this dark cloud’?”

The town’s finance committee on Tuesday accepted an amended version of the top-down alternative budget, which relies, in part, on limiting the growth of the town’s three municipal departments in the next six years.

That budget wouldn’t allow for any new full-time hires until at least 2013, according to town manager Kathy Roth, but it had originally called for an up-to-8-percent salary increase for town employees in all three departments in 2007.

But on Tuesday town officials replaced that increase with a possible 5 percent increase and a $2,000 bonus next year. Town employees will also have the chance to receive as much as a 4 percent salary increase from 2008 to 2012, down from the original 5 percent.

Altogether, the town will save about $400,000 from 2007 to 2012 by implementing the new salary scale. Committee members added $25,000 to hire a professional to conduct a staffing study in the town’s three departments but Wichmann still disagreed with the move to cut the salary increases next year.

“If we don’t take care of our employees, we’re going to lose them,” he said at the finance meeting. “And guess who we’re going to lose: the best.”

Ocean View Chief of Police Kenneth McLaughlin was also disappointed by the budgetary move introduced to the public – and to him — for the first time on Tuesday.

“I completely understand that we have to be more fiscally responsible,” the chief said. But, “We were looking to bring our salaries up to be competitive. That’s my concern.”

The finance committee also made some more changes to the proposed budget before approving the version it would present to council at the special budgetary meeting on Tuesday.

In recent years, the town has been increasing health and regular insurance expenses by 25 percent each year, said Eric Magill, the finance committee’s chair. If the town continued to increase its insurance costs at that rate, Magill added, that expense would far exceed what the town pays for employee’s salaries. According to the committee-approved budget, the town will only increase its insurance costs each year by 15 percent until 2009, 14 percent from 2009 to 2011, and 12 percent into 2012.

With money saved from the insurance costs, the sale of the Shores House — which is not yet on the market but is expected to go for about $325,000 — and the salary increase cut, the town will be able to reduce the original 2012 tax hike from 15 to 12 percent.

Still, Wichmann — who has, in the past, been in favor of an immediate tax hike — didn’t agree with Tuesday’s new plan and Ocean View’s police chief agreed with him on that.

“You have good people; you train them and you retain them,” Chief McLaughlin said, adding that Ocean View’s salaries will not be competitive with neighboring departments and it could risk losing good officers with the move.

“We’re a small operation. Losing two employees would be a significant blow. The investment loss, it’s just not worth it.”