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City raising salaries to 'raise bar'
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City of Ceres salaries have been so low that many of its professional workers have sought work elsewhere. In a survey of 13 similar-sized cities in the area, Ceres ranked 12th. Not acceptable, members of the Ceres City Council determined on Monday.

The council voted 3-2 Monday evening to bring salaries up by 16 percent through the use of general fund reserves.

Members said the increases are needed to be able to recruit the most qualified and most professional workers to help the council implement its vision and strategic plan for the future.

Since 2003, the city has lost 90 employees. Most of them left for greener pastures nearby.

"We've had a number of employees who leave who say they like working here but they have to be able to feed their family," said City Manager Brad Kilger.

He made it clear that he felt the increases were "essential" if the city is going to accomplish its goal of planning for the future and attracting tax-producing businesses.

"We haven't had enough people or the right people to get the job done," said Kilger.

Noting that the ranks of management are turning over every four to five years, Kilger said the city has been "woefully underpaying" staff members, particularly management.

The city estimates that it will cost $267,307 to adjust salaries of non-safety employees and $447,291 for police and fire salaries in the first year alone. The total increase in salaries over the through 2010 will amount to $1.6 million.

The council agreed to use general fund reserves to bring salaries up over the next three years. Kilger said that he ordinarily would never use reserves in this manner but he said the city has historically hording money at the expense of lower salaries.

"We now have the opportunity to meet council objectives over the next few years but it is fair to say for us to be competitive ... we need to have competitive salaries."

Sarah Ragsdale, the city's Administrative Services Director, projected that the city's reserves will be higher at the end of three years, based on projections of sales and property tax increases. She said if the city found its reserves not being restored, it can simply opt to forego giving cost of living adjustments in three years.

The last compensation and classification study was done 16 years ago. Kilger said that he felt the old practice was to "get by with a certain level of services and keep salaries low and see what they can get."

Officials wanted assurances that the pay adjustments would not affect police and fire personnel in negative ways. They also noted that the move was not a result of the passage of Measure H, the half-cent sales tax increase.

Mayor Anthony Cannella proposed a lesser increase in some categories but was outnumbered by other members. Cannella and Councilman Chris Vierra voted against the staff's proposal. They were outvoted by Vice Mayor Rob Phipps and Councilmen Ken Lane and Guillermo Ochoa.

Phipps said he wants the city to be able to "hire the best staff that we can possibly afford."