It was a busy agenda for the Calhoun City Council Monday night in the body’s first meeting of the calendar year.
The first order of business was the swearing in of two councilmembers in Ed Moyer and Ray Denmon, as well as three school board members in Andy Baxter, Rhoda Washington, and Stephen King.
All five won their respective seats as a result of the Nov. 2 city-wide election and were sworn in by Mayor Jimmy Palmer.
Later in the meeting Councilman Al Edwards was voted by the board as the city’s Mayor Pro Tem.
Councilmembers were also able to offer some economic relief to some city employees with a mid-fiscal year hourly pay increase.
To help curb recent inflation and make the city more competitive in an unprecedented employment climate, City Administrator Paul Worley asked the council for a $1-per-hour pay raise for part-time and full-time employees, as well as a $1.50-per-hour boost for city public safety employees. Part-time employees must work at least 18 hours-per-week to be eligible.
“The unemployment rates are at record lows, we have a high percentage of city workforce eligible for retirement, and we’re seeing inflation levels not seen in the last 40 years,” Worley said. “The city is not immune to these challenges, and I believe steps must be taken to maintain our current workforce and try to attract top talent when we do lose employees to retirement, or when employees decide to leave for other reasons.”
The measure applies only to city employees making less than $78,116.15, according to Worley, and will be funded using funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act — making the pay raise a temporary measure due to the one-time nature of the funding source. The increase will be implemented with the first pay period of February.
An hourly rate increase rather than an across-the-board percentage raise will allow for larger increases in the salaries lower salaried employees, while maintaining a noticeable increase to those on the higher end of the bracket as well.
The use of ARPA funds initially means the raises won’t affect the current fiscal year budget already in place. The cap in annual salary is due to federal ARPA guideline eligibility.
“Steps will need to be put into place to fund the premium pay on an ongoing basis,” Worley said.
Councilwoman Jackie Palazzolo expressed her support of the council working to find a more permanent solution to making the city a more competitive employer.
“I’m just glad that we’re able to do this,” she said. “Just like Paul said, we do have to continue to look at pay for our employees in the near future to see what we can do to make those wages more comparable to the areas around us.”
Mayor Palmer also spoke in support of the employee pay raise.
“We’ll continue to look at salaries and positions, as we move forward,” he said before the measure passed unanimously.
In other business, several items were approved following public hearings, including a group of annexations and zonings for an industrial development on Belwood Road.
Three parcels — one 28.5 acres, one 28.65 acres, and one 5.57 acres — were annexed into the City of Calhoun. The two larger properties were approved for rezoning from county agricultural to city industrial G, while the smaller property was rezones from county C-5 to industrial G.
According to applicant Lincoln Property Company, the parcels will be used for a 400,000-square-foot warehousing spec facility. Company representative Denton Shamburger said the building doesn’t yet have a tenant, but has “a lot of interest.”
All three sets of annexations and rezoning requests came with the blessing of the city’s zoning board, and passed by 3-0 votes with Palazzolo abstaining to avoid potential conflict of interest. The properties drew no outside comments during the public hearing phase.
A zoning change request was also approved by a 3-0 vote, with Palazzolo abstaining, for a 20-acre tract on Red Bud Road between the Ramada Inn and the former Liberty gas station from C-2 to R-2 for a residential development. That request also drew no public comment.
A beer and wine package license for Ginger’s Grocery, 1600 Dews Pond Road, was also approved 4-0, without drawing public comment, and a beer and wine pouring license for Dubs High on the Hog was approved for renewal 4-0.
Finally, the council made appointments of department heads for 2022.
The next meeting of the council is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 24. All meetings are open to the public.