Solon city officials approved wage increases at their last meeting for employees not covered under a collective bargaining agreement as well as the 2021 budget, both of which drew debate and discussion on the dais.
The ordinance allowing for a pay increase for the roughly 130 employees passed by a vote of 6-1 with Councilmen Robert Shimits, Jeremy A. Zelwin, William I. Russo, Marc R. Kotora, Eugene Macke Bentley and Councilwoman Nancy E. Meany voting in favor. Councilman Robert N. Pelunis gave the one no vote.
The 2021 budget, which had further revisions that decreased a deficit from $850,000 to about $290,000, received unanimous approval. That budget went into effect Jan. 1.
Mr. Pelunis suggested waiting to see what the numbers came in at following the first quarter of 2021 before giving the raises.
He said many people work hard and many have had reductions in employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic while others had to go on unemployment. He also said local governments will be receiving less money from the federal government moving forward.
In explaining his opposition, Mr. Pelunis also said that the city is spending more money than it is taking in.
“We are digging into our reserves to pay for a wage increase rather than make more substantive cuts,” he said. Mr. Pelunis said the city will be using debt financing or leasing to purchase ambulances or other capital equipment moving forward because “we don’t have funds to pay for it.”
Mr. Pelunis said his intention is first to see if revenues were going to exceed expenditures after the first quarter and if they didn’t, then the city can consider giving raises.
“I did not feel it was responsible to give raises until we saw what the numbers were going to be for 2021,” Mr. Pelunis said.
The city projected a revenue loss of between $3 million and $4 million in 2020 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Through mitigation efforts, officials made about $3 million in budget cuts, including a hiring freeze for 2021.
Mayor Edward H. Kraus said he is supporting the raises. The pay increase will equate to an expenditure of about $235,000.
The general fund budget for 2021 is roughly $43.5 million.
Mayor Kraus said the wages are a way to show the employees how much they are valued.
Mr. Russo said to Mr. Pelunis, “the cat is out of the bag,” meaning employees already are aware they are getting a raise and that it has been discussed.
“It has already been publicized that workers will get a raise,” Mr. Russo said. “Anything that would go against that would cause disruption. At this point it would be difficult if we pull back.”
“I’m not saying pull back,” Mr. Pelunis responded. “I’m saying to wait for first quarter numbers.”
Mr. Russo went on to state that every dollar the city spends comes out of taxpayers’ pockets.
“Nothing is free,” he said. Some city taxpayers have experienced job loss or pay cuts due to the pandemic, he said, and did not receive raises.
“I’m sure they all deserve better,” he said. “It’s easy to hand out money that came out of someone else’s pocket,” Mr. Russo said. He said that he personally pledges to the mayor that as chairman of the enterprise zone committee, and along with Economic Development Director Angee Shaker, he will do everything possible to work to attract and retain businesses in the city to increase tax revenues.
Mayor Kraus said the goal of 2021 is to “hold the line.”
On top of what was proposed originally in the budget, Mayor Kraus said recently an additional approximately $557,000 has been cut. That includes two bicentennial events, a time capsule opening and formal gala, as well as changing specific funding sources to alleviate pressure on the general fund. About $287,000 was direct budget revisions, and about $270,000 was changing funding sources.
This resulted in a deficit of less than 1 percent of the total budget, the mayor noted. This was all done without sacrificing city services and keeping the workforce intact, he said.
“We wanted to get that operating deficit down as far as we can go without impacting the high level of service and staff we have come to know and love about our community,” Mayor Kraus added.
“We feel it is a sound approach,” Finance Director Matthew Rubino said.
Mr. Russo, who had first opposed the original budget with the larger deficit, said that what has transpired since then in terms of further reductions has been “appropriate.”
He commended Mr. Zelwin for doing a “yeoman’s job” as chairman of the Finance Committee.
“This has been an exceptionally difficult year,” Mr. Russo said. “I feel much more comfortable with the work that has been done to get us to this point.”
Mr. Bentley and Mr. Kotora echoed Mr. Russo’s comments on Mr. Zelwin.
“It was well worth the extra time to put in to reduce the deficit,” Mr. Bentley said. “It is still somewhat concerning but we have to do what we have to do to get it done.”
Mayor Kraus said while it may be a deficit budget, it is not deficit spending.
“We knew 2020 was going to be quite challenging, but 2021 will be better,” Mayor Kraus said. He said his administration and City Council both agreed “you can have a deficit budget as long as you don’t have deficit spending.
“You don’t want a large deficit budget,” he said. “We are still in a pandemic.”