BELEN — City of Belen employees began the new year with bigger pay checks.
At the Dec. 21 meeting, city councilors unanimously approved wage increases presented by human resource director Steven Gonzales.
Gonzales said prior to the wage increases, staff made sure the city’s organizational chart was accurate in terms of the hierarchy of employees, supervisors and directors, job descriptions were revised, employee evaluations were completed and finally a salary study.
The wage increases will total $227,364 of additional expenses in the general fund per fiscal year, Gonzales said, with an increase of $113,731 for the second half of the current fiscal year; both amounts include salaries and benefits.
“Everybody got a fairly significant increase and this gets us fairly comparable,” he said. “It’s not where we should be but it will be better than the minimum wage that is going to $12.50 in 2022.”
Gonzales said President-elect Joe Biden is also proposing to push the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023, so implementing a wage increase now will help get the city ahead of that increase and help alleviate the problem of pay compression for supervisors.
“We’ve had issues in the past with retention and one of the main reasons was our salaries were significantly lower compared to Los Lunas or Socorro,” he said. “People are just going for the money. People want to stay here, this is their home. We are doing everything to build morale and this is probably going to do the most.”
Councilor Frank Ortega asked if the total amount of the wage increases would be coming from the city’s general fund or out of other departments such as water and wastewater.
City finance director Rosanne Peralta said 79.35 full-time equivilants were paid out of the general fund, with the remaining 37 paid out of other department funds.
“When we first developed the original plan, it was very high and we said there’s no way it could happen. We worked with City Manager (Andrew) Salas to create different (pay) steps,” Peralta said.
Gross receipts tax revenues for the city have been doing really well, she said, mostly thanks to people shopping local.
“Going back a couple years to FY 2019, we ended with an $836,000 cash balance. If we’d had the raises at that time, we would have been OK,” she said. “We lost some positions and for FY 2020, before COVID and Tractor Supply (opened), we were looking at a $1.5 million ending cash balance. For FY 2021, our current budget year, if we can stay within the budget that was approved, we are projecting an ending cash balance of $1,453,000.”
Peralta said all departments are within budget, at less than 50 percent of expenditures, and revenues from property taxes and GRT at 56 percent.
“I am confident this is something we can do,” she said.
In regards to the FY 2022 budget, Peralta said she anticipated a small drop in GRT as businesses were able to open more and the COVID-19 situation improved.
She also projected decreased costs for employee training since there seemed to be the inclination to keep them online for now.
“Our departments and directors are staying on budget, projects are going forward and we have funding for them,” the director said. “As long as we maintain our reserves, I don’t see a problem.”
The mayor, councilors and municipal judge won’t receive salary increases, and the newly-appointed city manager declined a raise, Peralta said.
The police chief and two lieutenants with the department will get the wage increase; officers are on a salary-step schedule through the department’s collective bargaining unit.
The city’s blue collar union doesn’t have a step schedule, Peralta said, and the increases would have to be presented to and accepted by the union.
There are two vacant positions — one in the water department and one in the judicial department — that would have their wages increased and the employees hired for those positions would come in at the new, higher rate, she said.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.