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Former city employees, many with 20 to 40 years of service, went before the Paris City Council on Monday night, asking that the council restore annual Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA) that were eliminated four years ago. On the front row, from left, are former city attorney Terry K. Haynes, Tommy Haynes, former police chief Charles Whitley, and Maralene Rose. Rising from the second row to make her way to the podium is Deanna Manning, former water billing secretary. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Retired employees of the City of Paris made a plea for more money at Monday’s meeting of the Paris City Council meeting to ask that the council reinstate Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA) for them.
Wednesday, at 5 p.m., in a special meeting of the council, city manager John Godwin will formally present his budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
He has indicated there will be more money for the infrastructure, streets, city clean-up and demolition of dilapidated houses, but has not addressed the issue of benefits — for either current or retired personnel.
Maralene Rose, who said she worked 40 years in the city’s finance department, prefaced her comments during citizens’ forum at the start of Monday’s council meeting by asking: “Would all the retirees who are here stand at this time, please?”
Council members’ heads pivoted to the left as retirees rose from three rows of seats. At Ms. Rose’s nod, they sat again.
“We are here respectively asking for the reinstatement of Cost-Of-Living Adjustments for the retirees under the Texas Municipal Retirement System,” she said.
“Prior to 2005, the COLA was automatic each year. And then the city adopted the one-time COLA from 2005 to 2008. The COLA was discontinued in 2008,” she continued.
“Two years ago, the city contribution rate for the current employees of the Texas Municipal Retirement System was decreased more than 35 percent, and still there was no consideration at that time for reinstating the COLA,” Ms. Rose said.
Because of the savings to the city, “we, the retirees, feel we have contributed to the purchase of a fire truck, to the downtown sidewalk project, and to the expansion of the Trail de Paris, she said.
“While being overlooked, we are paying water and sewer charges that have been increased three times during this period. Please do the right thing and reinstate the Cost-Of-Living Adjustment for TMRS retirees in this upcoming budget,” she concluded.
And then, in turn, nine others got up and walked to the podium to add an exclamation point.
“Charles Whitley (former police chief). I worked for the city 29 years. Retired in 1990. Living on a fixed income is very difficult.”
“Tommy Haynes, I retired in March 2004. No one has received a COLA since 2008.”
“Terry K. Haynes (former city attorney). Employed in the city legal department for more than 30 years.”
“Deanna Manning. Employed 29 ½ years in the water billing office.”
“Stephen Holmes. Retired from 26 years at the police department. A lot of us dedicated our lives to the city. Our health insurance got cut. Would like you to at least reinstate the COLA?”
“Marlene Hutchings. Worked for the city for 25 years in the water billing office. Everything has gone up, and I think we deserve a raise.”
“Wanda Tharp. I worked 23 years in the water billing office.”
“James Wright. I retired in 1997, worked at the water treatment plant for 23 years. We did our best to keep clean, clear drinking water for the city. Things have gone up. Costs have skyrocketed over the last 15 years.”
“Joe Julian. I spent 30 years in the police department. Restore the COLA, please.”
Mayor AJ Hashmi has asked Godwin to schedule several council workshops on the budget.
At least one public hearing will be required for public input to Godwin’s initial proposal, and one or more additional public hearings — publicized ahead of time — must follow if changes are made.
By charter, the council must adopt the budget by Sept. 27, or the manager‘s initial recommendations will automatically become the budget.
County commissioners on Monday signaled they will raise taxes by 8 percent in their 2012-2013 budget. That’s the maximum without triggering an election at which voters could roll back the rate.
Godwin said last week he will not propose an increase in city taxes. Because significant long-term debt was paid off recently, he said, there will be room to provide a number of new services without raising the city tax rate, he said.
But members of the council have been saying they not only want no increase, but would like the tax rate reduced in each of the next several years, without a loss in essential city services.
That could happen, they say, by improved efficiency and productivity and by a more optimistic approach to expected revenues and expenditures.
Historically, budget officers tend to over-estimate expenses and under-estimate revenues to assure ending the year in the black. That has led to reserves of more than $20 million in the City of Paris coffers.
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