Tuesday night the Keller City Council held a budget workshop. The two dominant topics were funding for the Arts and the city’s personnel costs.

Since the election in May, city council members chose to make a policy decision regarding the funding of the Public Arts Board. In the past, the PAB had been funded by dedicated revenue from the leases on cell towers and a contractual annual “donation” of $25,000 from the city’s garbage vendor. The effect of these dedicated revenue streams was to keep the arts funding “off limits” from all other competing spending priorities. In effect, the PAB had its own savings account, although it couldn’t make withdrawals without being in an approved budget. The new city council ended this dedicated revenue practice and insisted that the PAB be funded from the General Fund, where it competes directly with other city needs.

The Chairman of the Public Arts Board made one last plea for some type of dedicated funding. His most persuasive point for dedicated funding was that it shows council commitment to the Arts which would help secure grant and cosponsor money. The council politely denied the request.

The second, and much more important, topic concerned city staff pay increases. In our budget workshop this summer, I objected to budgeted increase in salaries as too high. So I took the budget worksheets for this year and last to examine costs in more detail.

What alarmed me the most was that, despite the council being told last year that raises were about 7%, actual raises were about 10.5%. (I voted against last year’s budget because I thought 7% was too high.)

This year’s budgeted raises were a 3.5% cost-of-living raise for everyone, plus an additional 3.5 – 6% merit/step raise for most employees. Rather than rant, rave and blog about this, I decided to just print the conclusions of my analysis for my fellow council members and offer the following compromise:

Instead of giving both cost-of-living and merit/step raises, employees would receive whichever is greater.

I did not suggest the council eliminate cost-of-living raises, as Adrienne Nettles said in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I suggested eliminating cost-of-living raises for those people already receiving a 3.5-6% merit/step raise. My proposal would have reduced the average raise from 7.5% down to about 4.3%.

When we asked the staff how many employees qualified for their merit/step raises, we were told “all but one.”

We recently did an employee survey in conjunction with our search for a new city manager. The answer came back that they loved (former city manager) Lyle Dresher and feared the city council. With his ability to sneak a three-times-market wage increase past the city council last year, and getting them a double-market increase three months after he quit, I can see why they love him.