Pelham considering hiring freeze, other cost-saving measures

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Pelham officials will consider several cost-saving measures, including a hiring freeze, over the next few weeks as they work to balance and pass the city’s budget.

Pelham Mayor Don Murphy presented a list of possible scenarios, many of which involved city employees, to the City Council during a Sept. 20 work session.

“I want to make it clear that I am not advocating any of these except the removal of the revenue cap for city retirees,” Murphy said. “These are things you may want to consider and you may not want to consider.

“We are in economic times we have never been in. Our people are hurting,” Murphy added. “I don’t want to do anything that would hurt employees, but I don’t want to send anyone home.”

A current Pelham ordinance places a cap on the amount of revenue a city retiree can earn if they move to another job after working for the city. Murphy suggested the council repeal the ordinance to possibly encourage some city employees who are already looking at retiring.

“I do think we need to look at that and make some changes to it,” Murphy said.

Though he did not advocate them, Murphy also presented other cost-saving options, including eliminating employee education incentives, increasing single-coverage employee insurance contributions, reducing work hours, reducing employee salaries 3 percent and eliminating seasonal employees.

Murphy also listed offering early employee retirement packages, further consolidating staff, furloughs and a hiring freeze as possible cost-saving moves.

“If we did a hiring freeze, nobody would be added to the payroll unless absolutely necessary,” Murphy said. “We wouldn’t lay anybody off, but if someone leaves, we don’t hire anyone to replace them unless it’s just a critical position.”

Councilman Steve Powell said he was not satisfied with the list of possibilities the mayor presented.

“I’m not happy at all with the direction of the things I’m hearing here,” Powell said. “How do you think the city employees feel when we say they are the solution to our financial difficulties?

“Maybe we can do without a new chandelier at the Civic Complex or $130,000 worth of computer equipment,” Powell added. “I’m not happy with these solutions at all.”

Council President Mike Dickens said the council should consider the cost-saving items before voting on the fiscal year 2011 budget, which will go into effect Oct. 1, 2010.

“(Murphy) was asked to surface these things, and he did. Leadership is about taking stands on things that are not always popular,” Dickens said. “These things are things I think would be wrong if we didn’t consider.”

Dickens also said the council likely will vote on a 1 percent increase in the city’s lodging tax and an increase in the Pelham Racquet Club membership rates next month.

The council likely will vote on the proposed fiscal year 2011 budget during its Oct. 4 meeting.