With inflation on the rise, Pittsfield considers ‘guardrails’ to cost-of-living increases for city employees | Berkshires Center

PITTSFIELD — When city councilors deliberated on the recently passed fiscal year 2023 budget last month, they noted that for a group of city employees, the slowing economy was producing — at least momentarily — positive results.

As the new fiscal year kicked off earlier this month, a group of about 50 city department heads, managers and non-union employees received a 7.5% wage increase through a clause in the code of the city that ties their annual wage increases to the consumer price index of the previous January for all city customers.

During budget discussions, Mayor Linda Tyer and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Kerwood noted that the CPI of 7.5% was a 42-year high for the CPI – a measure of the cost of goods and services in basics like food, energy and housing cost from year to year.

At the middle of the calendar year, the consumer price index (CPI) continues to climb, reaching 9.1% in a report published on Wednesday by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

City leaders are set to change the level to which these boosts can climb. On Tuesday, the city council sent a Tyer proposal capping annual increases to the council’s ordinances and rules subcommittee.

The subcommittee, which is due to meet Aug. 1, will consider and then make a recommendation to the full council on whether or not it should change the city code to cap increases for this group of workers. employees at 5% — creating what Tyer called during May budget deliberations a set of “guardrails” for city payroll costs.

Paying increased cost of living to city leaders became a contentious topic of discussion early in the city’s review of the city’s $188.8 million operating budget.

Human Resources Director Michael Taylor told the board in May that the increases were about $300,000 more in paychecks this fiscal year for executive staff and about $100,000 more for non-union employees.

Delayed But Undeterred, Pittsfield City Council Passes $188 Million Operating Budget

The annual raises are spelled out in a section of the city code, not in a formal contract with employees. While Tyer said she and other city leaders were “astounded” at the height of January’s CPI, she decided the city needed to follow through on its ordinance commitment.

“After some careful deliberation, we have come to believe that what is contained in the city code has the same legal weight as the provisions contained in our collective agreements,” Tyer told the council in May.

Councilor Earl Persip III told the meeting that if the town is to keep a competent and hardworking staff, it must continue to deal with the rising cost of living this year.

“It’s time to start paying your employees,” Persip said. “You have to pay for your assets. The private sector was willing to pay skilled and educated people much more than we do. People who do it love it, they have a passion for it.

Persip said in May that for years cost-of-living increases “have only been small percentages, it just happens to be high this year.”

The minimum salary for a person in a management position in the last fiscal year was approximately $39,350. The 7.5% increase for this fiscal year adds about $2,950 to the minimum wage, for a total of about $42,300.

The maximum salary any executive position can receive in the prior fiscal year was approximately $132,690. The 7.5% increase this fiscal year added approximately $9,960 to the maximum salary, for a total of approximately $142,650.

The board voted unanimously in February 2019 to tie increases for management and non-union staff to the January CPI. Previously, the city code stated that “changes to the compensation plan must be made to reflect changes in the cost of living.”

Taylor appeared before the Orders and Rules subcommittee in 2019 to explain that the use of the CPI was an attempt to raise the cost of living fairly and transparently. He said that although it’s part of the code, “historically, this group has never really had a cost of living increase.”

Mayor Tyer presented a $198 million budget for FY23. Pittsfield City Council wants more for mental health supports.

The proposed fiscal year 2023 budget presented to City Council on Tuesday evening would direct nearly $100 million to the municipal operating budget, $72 million to the Pittsfield Public Schools budget, $16 million to the budgets of city ​​water and sewer companies and $10 million toward other expenses.

“Everyone knows exactly what data is used to determine these increases,” Taylor said of the CPI. “Then it’s not just arbitrary depending on who might be in the administration. Rather, it’s data that anyone can find and it’s objective, it’s transparent.

When cost-of-living increases were discussed in May, some councilors said any increase – to meet the cost of living or otherwise – should be seen as a chance at a time when the future of the national economy looks rather gloomy.

“Most people who work in the public sector don’t have a guaranteed cost of living increase, sometimes they actually take time off like this,” Councilman Charles Kronick said at the time. . “I’m not saying we do that, but I’m just saying maybe we don’t need a guarantee [cost of living adjustment] but an optional COLA.

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