City budget enhances bus routes and city worker pay

City budget  enhances bus routes and city worker pay
June 08
05:00 2017

The proposed $482.2 million City of Winston-Salem budget covers Winston-Salem Transit Authority’s budget shortfall, improves the new bus routes, increases the salaries of many employees and raises property taxes by 1.24 cent per $100 of property value.

Estimates earlier in the year had the tax increase at a higher level to cover all those things, but a strengthening economy and a recent reappraisal that found most properties gaining value, gives the city enough revenue so the rate increase is a little more than 1 cent. This raises the city tax rate from 58.5 cent per $100 of property value to 59.74 cent.

The budget was presented to the council on Thursday, June 1, by Budget and Evaluation Director Patrice Toney. A public will get to comment on the budget at 7 tonight at City Hall. A vote on the budget is scheduled for June 19 and, if passed, it’ll go into effect on July 1.

The additional spending in the budget focuses on two areas: the city bus system and giving city workers competitive wages. 

WSTA implemented an overhaul of all its routes this year. Many riders found their routes or stops had been moved too far away or that they had lost night and weekend service. In response to rider feedback, stops have already been moved and routes adjusted.

The budget includes additional hours to bus service, which will add or restore night or weekend service to nine routes: 80, 86, 90, 91, 92, 94, 104, 106 and 108. The budget also eliminates the new route 100, which provides transportation between local colleges, due to low ridership. City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, who wasn’t at the meeting due to a death in the family, wants to keep the route for six months to a year to see if ridership improves. Montgomery is part of a group that bought The Chronicle this year.

City Council Member Robert Clark supported all the route changes in the budget, including eliminating Route 100, which saves $216,000.

“I’d much rather use that money on routes that people will actually ride on,” said Clark.

The changes, which will cost $800,000, seemed to have support across the council.

“This is something we must do,” said City Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams.

The increased cost of the new routes was one factor in the projected $1.8 million WSTA budget shortfall projected for next year, which the budget is able to cover using 1 cent of the proposed tax increase. Bus rates will remain at $1 and a possible Trans-Aid rate increase may be added as a budget amendment during committee meetings.

The budget includes $1.2 million to implement compensation increases recommended by a study of one-third of the positions in the city. It’s the first step in bringing pay closer to market rate for all city workers. This budget focuses on raising labor, trade and crafts positions, many of which are the most severely under market. There are 442 employees with compensation below market who’ll see at least a 2 percent increase, and 287 employees within market range will receive a 2 percent increase to avoid compression.

For example, the severely underpaid light equipment operator will get a 17.2 percent increase to bring the compensation into market range while building inspectors will get a 4.6 percent bump.  Only two employees in the study were above market and won’t see a raise.

The budget increases the minimum hourly wage paid to city employees to $11.25. The city will continue its 2 percent contribution to its employees’ new 401(a) plan.

The budget maintains the city’s plan to attract and maintain police officers with its annual 2 percent supplemental pay adjustment for fire and police personnel in January. There is also 2 percent compression increases for officers within market range and 2 percent retention bonuses for higher ranking officers. City Council Member James Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher, suggested adding a military incentive if it doesn’t increase taxes.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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