By Margie Plunkett
A proposal by Ocean Ridge Mayor Geoff Pugh to give city employees a 5 percent raise this year — to compensate for three years without an increase — met with shock from a contingent of commissioners.
To support the pay increase, Pugh said he would cut other budget requests, including an increase in the town’s alarm monitoring fee and two new cars for the Police Department. “We could get this together with millage of 5.52 percent, a 3 percent increase over last year,” Pugh said, calculating that would raise taxes $139 a year on a home with a taxable value of $500,000.
The mayor made his proposal at a special meeting to discuss the budget. The town will hold its next budget meeting on Sept. 10.
“If you want this level of service to stay as it is, that’s not a high price to pay,” he said. “In order to have what you want to have here, it’s going to cost you some money. What’s it worth to you to live in the town of Ocean Ridge?”
Opponents criticized the mayor’s suggestion as hampering negotiations with the police union and adding operating costs without appropriate analysis. The added salary would set a higher base for future operating costs, they said.
“To throw that number out here tonight, it’s a little irresponsible,” said Commissioner Ed Brookes. “We’re going to look like schmoes if it comes down. We haven’t been draconian, including benefits and time off. I think we’re being a little lazy to just throw a number out.”
Commissioner Zoanne Hennigan said, “I’m just shocked that you did that. You have to inch up on this stuff.” She agreed with Brookes that “we’re trying to be as generous as we could be. What are other towns doing? They haven’t given raises either. They’ve even laid off.
“Long-term, it’s going to be unsustainable,” Hennigan said.
Pugh did have support. “I agree with Geoff on this. I don’t think he’s in any way negated the (police) negotiations,” said Commissioner Lynn Allison, also pointing to the need for quality of life for the employees.
During the special meeting, commissioners also debated the possible boost in price of the alarm system from $180 to $300 annually.
The alarm monitoring service is provided by the Ocean Ridge Police Department.
The increase was too steep and generates a profit instead of simply recouping costs, according to some commissioners.
But others argued that the funds raised wouldn’t really be a profit — because if the money isn’t raised through the alarm, it will have to be raised elsewhere.
“By increasing it by $300, it would be a profit of $90,000 and inappropriate to single out a set of people for special services,” Hennigan said. “We should be charging to recoup, but not to make a huge profit.”
About 300 people use the alarm monitoring service, which would cost $25 a month if increased to $300. Commissioner Gail Aaskov said she didn’t think it right that such a small number of people bore the added cost.
But Brookes pointed out that revenue sources aren’t easy to find for the town. “If you don’t look at these revenue generators, we have so few.”
Current tax rate: $5.25 per $1,000 of taxable property
Proposed tax rate: $5.75
Public hearings: 5:01 p.m. Sept. 10 and 25