Decatur Commission Passes Tax Credit, But Tables Staff Bonus

What to do with an $1,000,000 surplus during a shaky economy?  The Decatur City Commission searched for an answer to the “good problem to have” last night, but couldn’t come up with a vote-worthy solution.

Though the roughly $70 property tax credit for Decatur residents was warmly embraced – and passed –  by all four members  of the Decatur City Commission last night (Mayor Pro-Tem Baskett was absent), the City Manager’s suggested “one-time pay period compensation adjustment” for staff was balked at by some members of the Commission.  (The $400,000+ leftover after the tax credit would be put back into the reserve fund)

Commissioner Keica Cunningham was the only member at the table who showed no hesitation in supporting the one-time bonus, which would cost the city $200,000.  Mayor Floyd seemed a bit wary, but eventually said that he thought he was “OK with doing this” if the commission was going to go ahead with a vote that evening.  Commissioner Patti Garrett gave no indication of how she would vote during the meeting.

The Commissioner with the most reservations about using the $200,000 for a one-time bonus was Fred Boykin.  Boykin, like all the commissioners, repeatedly praised the work of staff in keeping expenditures way down during the 09-10 fiscal year (over $800,000 below projected expenditures in the budget), but worried that “many folks out there” were struggling and that perhaps this was not the best time or the best economy to be giving bonuses.

City Manager Peggy Merriss defended the suggested increase by reiterating that neither the tax credit to residents or the potential staff bonus increase would have been possible without city staff’s continued efforts to keep costs down during the weak economy, and that without the bonus, staff would in effect see a reduction in pay from last year.

Mayor Floyd proposed that the Commission table the measure until the first meeting in November, when they would revisit it after further consideration.

20 thoughts on “Decatur Commission Passes Tax Credit, But Tables Staff Bonus”

  1. “City Manager Peggy Merriss defended the suggested increase by reiterating that neither the tax credit to residents or the potential staff bonus increase would have been possible without city staff’s continued efforts to keep costs down during the weak economy,”

    Isn’t it the job of all city staff to keep costs down? Whose money is it anyway? Why pay a bonus for doing your job? Peggy Merriss left out one party in her accolades. What about the property tax payer who over paid? It certainly would not have been possible without us.

    1. your looking or accolades, you got it with your tax credit dogu30030. Now pat the employees on the back for keeping costs down, providing high quality programs, and bringing in revenue to the city so that you could get money back in your pocket. This community is about partnerships not us” and “them” dogu30030, so yes your tax dollars are important ,but if you don’t have high quality people managing and using the tax dollars responsibly, then you have the crisis that many cities and counties face today. DM please clarify bonus, because the proposal is not a bonus! COD employees have not had a raise in three years, many of them can’t afford to live in a city they love and work so hard for. I find it unnerving that my representative would approve one without the other. This community gets its strength from both the employees and the residents. Cramps my style that a city so devoted to having the community input would have representatives that would not compensate both its residents and employees. In case I forgot to mention it- DM pleae provide background and history behind what is not a bonus! and no dogu30030 I am not a city of decaur employee.

      1. The only reason I called it a bonus is because one of the commissioners referred to it as such last night. So it’s not technically a bonus? Then what is it? The only reason I called it such was because “one time paid period compensation adjustment” was a bit too wonky to repeat over and over in the post.

        And why does it even matter what it’s called?

        1. I think it does; compensation adjustment indicates that employees are actually getting some sort of cost of living or salary adjustment based on accounted for factors. Bonus is a word nonprofits and government service should and do avoid. The implications are very different. Public service employees should never get bonuses. They should and do get cost of living, performance and other random salary bumps.

          This does make me like both the mayor and Boykin much less.

          1. I see where you’re coming from. The only reason I ventured into the realm of the word bonus was because I thought that “compensation adjustment” was a bit confusing to the everyman (such as myself). And the thing most like it is indeed a bonus, no?

            Ah, the power of words.

        2. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Not sure, but I think it’s Mark Twain.

          1. It is Twain, but I’m not sure that’s EXACTLY what he was referring to. I believe he was talking about crafting the perfect sentence, not potentially over-summarizing wonk. 🙂

  2. nelliebelle could not have said it better. Boykin was wrong to call it a bonus and wrong to suggest he would not want to provide compensation to a hard working group of people, some who have been making as little as 20 thousand a year, while trying to live in the city they work and care for. Have you looked at what some public work employees, police officers, firefighters, children and youth services, and active living employees make? Have you seen how hard the DDA has worked to bring in revenue to this city, and provide service with an already small budget? Hope they make the right decision for Decatur by showing that we as citizens (the people our commision represents) value the CODs hard work, fiscal rsponsibility, and devotion to making Decatur a great place to be. I am surprised and dissapointed in Mr. Boykin.

    1. Are you sure it was Boykin who called it a bonus? He certainly may have, but I don’t recall exactly who called it that during the meeting.

      In the paragraph above, I call it a bonus summarizing his point. It’s not a direct quote.

      1. No I guess I am not sure, I was not there, I read your post and understood it that Mr. Boykin said bonus…I retract that statement….hope retract is a powerful enough word!

        1. I only retract the comment about Boykin calling a bonus, not my beliefs that the COD employees need to be given the compensation.

  3. I’m curious, do we know if ‘managing costs’ is explicitly spelled out as a goal for city workers? If there was a targeted goal and their efforts allowed us to reach it, then by all means they should receive the bonus. If not, then this seems like a ‘feel good’ measure that likely isn’t in Decatur’s best interest.

    I’m afraid I’ve got to go with dogu30030 on this one – while we are fortunate to have this as an issue during these economic times, the fact is that money doesn’t ‘belong’ to the city or its employees. It belongs to the taxpayers who have apparently being significantly overpaying for services.

    And that’s not a condemnation of the services – they’re great in our little burg. Now, some comments seem to be saying that we are underpaying our city employees. Maybe that’s true. If Decatur employees aren’t being paid a market wage then we should expect to see other municipalities poaching our very talented workforce. Has that been happening? I don’t know enough to answer that question. But if it hasn’t, then it would seem our wages are in line with the duties and responsibilities required, thus no need to provide a bonus at the expense of Decatur taxpayers.

  4. Let’s get this straight. It is not a “BONUS.” Decatur City employees have not received annual pay adjustments/cost of living adjustments in close to three years. Employees used to receive annual adjustments according to performance, but this was stopped once the economy turned south. So workers are making less than they were three years ago. If you want to keep your workforce strong, happy, and willing to work hard performance incentives (pay, time off, etc.) are a must. If you want your workforce weak, unhappy, and not willing to work hard because strong performance is ignored, then you will get what you pay for. I would like to know why you think you are significantly overpaying in taxes? Are you not happy with the services the City of Decatur provides? I have lived in many different cities and counties and by far Decatur has the best services of any that I have encountered. You are also correct when you say the city does not own the money they receive from taxpayers, but that is why we have a city commission (elected by tax payers) to decide on such issues. Maybe more of us tax payers should attend these meetings to become more informed.

    1. On the other hand, Decatur employees DO have a job in an economy in which many many people do not. Go out and try to find a job and see what I mean. It’s quite tough out here. I’m working two low-paying part-time jobs and have just about given up applying for other jobs because nobody will look at me. A steady job for three years, even without a raise, looks darn good to me.

      Many other governments are cutting or furloughing employees.

      We do have good city services, but we also pay the highest property tax rate in the state (and that’s mostly due to the schools, still, we pay relatively high taxes.)

    2. Agree 100% that the services we receive here in Decatur are top-notch. Just took issue with the comments about Commissioner Boykin, who in this case strikes me as the only council member serving as a responsible steward of our funds.

      Regarding the ‘significantly overpaying taxes’ comment (which I’m pretty sure I didn’t say but was inferred nonetheless), if there is a surplus then that’s an indication that we taxpayers did indeed collectively overpay last year. Again, a good problem to have in an economy like this.

      Final note: the commission isn’t elected by taxpayers, it’s elected by citizens. That whole “property-owner-right-to-vote” thing is just so 1850.

    3. “Decatur City employees have not received annual pay adjustments/cost of living adjustments in close to three years.”

      Me either–at least not in the positive direction. I’ve had my employer contributions to my 401k stopped, variable comp suspended, and taken unpaid furloughs. I made less in 2009 than I did in 2008 and I’ll make less in 2010 than I did in 2009. All so my employer could make a profit for their investors. That’s the corporate reality. I agree that it is important to motivate employees and I don’t in any way fault Peggy Merriss for trying to do that for City employees. But Fred Boykin was right to pause on this issue rather than rubber stamp the proposal.

  5. It sure seems like a bonus to me–a one-time payment above base compensation in appreciation for work that exceeded expectations or goals, or whatever. But what they call it matters because there are laws pertaining to awarding such pay to exempt versus non-exempt employees and whether or not it’s mentioned in their contracts, any or all of which can affect how it’s taxable, has to be counted as overtime, etc. I’d be willing to bet that calling it a “one-time compensation adjustment” or whatever the phrase was, simplified some or all of those considerations.

    Anyhow, I think there is a case to be made on each side. Yes, we want our City employees to feel valued and like their hard work means something to us. And it’s certainly true that none of the rank and file are getting rich and many cannot even think about being able to live in Decatur because it’s too expensive. No raises for three years is tough (although a lot of us are in the same miserable boat).

    On the other hand, it should be the gold standard of expectation to contain and reduce costs at every opportunity. If we reward them for doing it this year, does that mean we paid them regular salaries for being lax last year? Another thing I’m surprise no one has mentioned is that this whole little surplus is admittedly in part a result of conservative projections. Theoretically, that means City staff are in a position to rig the game by estimating costs on the high side and then beating them. (Back in days of yore when I was responsible for a corporate revenue goal, we always fought hard for lower targets so we could exceed them by bigger margins and thus “earn” better bonuses.)

    So, what’s the right thing to do? I don’t even know what I think. (And that’s something you hardly ever hear from me!)

  6. I appreciate the comments on this issue. Decatur is in good financial condition relative to many cities and counties in Georgia. We may be the only one able to return money to the taxpayers this year and I’m proud of the fact that the City has not had to lay off any employees or call for furloughs this fiscal year. We have a hard working staff and they’ve done a good job. We were conservative in our estimates and we’re blessed with the “problem” of what to do with a million dollars. The Commission voted for part of it to build the reserve fund back up and another part to go back to the taxpayers. The City Manager requested a third part be used as an extra payment to City employees.

    The current budget already contains an additional one week payment to City staff; the $200,000.00 requested at Monday’s Commission Meeting would have added a second week so the staff would then receive a full two week pay period payment. (Last fiscal year City staff received the full two week pay period payment). The payment – either way – is usually given out the first pay period in January.

    In previous years, I have always voted for pay raises for the staff and cost of living adjustments too. However, times are different right now. Georgia has a very high unemployment rate, governments from the state level on down are freezing salaries, requiring furlough time from their staffs. Private industry is doing the same and a lot of folks are just glad to have a job. I have some reservations this time around and the other Commissioners were willing to table the motion until our first meeting in November.

    I appreciate the extra time to hear from residents and neighbors – after all, a lot of this suplus comes from tax dollars and I want to be careful how it’s spent. It is not an easy decision.

  7. My understanding from the materials located on the city website under city commission minutes is that much of the surplus for the compensation is from expenditure reductions by staff and additional revenues. I hope as the commissioners continue to think about this issue that they here from residents and feedback from employees, both groups help to make this place a great place to be. The document is located at Its where I got my information from.

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