Councilwoman Delgado wants salary savings set aside

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Moving the Hattiesburg Water Bill Department under the Sewer & Water director will save money that one City Council member wanted to allocate for pay raises for department employees.

Hattiesburg Sewer & Water Director Alan Howe presented the proposal to the City Council on Monday during its agenda-setting meeting. He said the general manager’s position would not be refilled and an electrician would be hired.

“Currently, we have four divisions: Water Transmission, Water Plants, Sewer and Lagoon, which currently report to the general manager,” he said. “We are in bad need for electricians all across the board to take care of different things. We have contractors that have been helping us. Also, our locate department, we have one locator who gets the sewer and water lines.”

Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado asked about the savings by making the decision not to hire a general manager.

“I know you are not going to fill this position, so those are the funds that will go to hire a person,” she said. “So, what happens to the savings that you realize from this continuing?”

“It could go to future pay for employees, it could go to infrastructure, it could go to different things,” Howe answered.

“When you say, ‘future pay for employees,’ is it possible for us to designate that that savings be directed to employee salaries?” Delgado asked.

Mayor Toby Barker said the money would be used when the City Council begins replacing the smaller pipes in the city, especially in Wards 2 and 4.

“Also, as we continue to negotiate with the EPA on a possible significant investment over time to fix its sanitary overflow problem, you are going to need resources for that,” he said. “I do also think we are going to have to take a look at crew worker pay and other employees,” he said. “However, what I hope to see is over the next four or five years we cut significantly on what we have to contract out. Some of that will go to pay, but to tie us down to a certain percentage I don’t think is a wise decision. As we end this fiscal year, we were able to get a raise to water and sewer employees. We hope to get another one very soon. I don’t think you want to restrict where funding has to go.”

Delgado said employees should be considered when “extra” money is found.

“In the scheme of things, we have year after year after year after year placed the employees at the bottom of the spectrum,” she said. “We identify huge projects that the city has to do, yet we say that we are concerned about the people who deliver services in the City of Hattiesburg. And, they have not received significant pay increases ever. I’m talking about lower-paid employees. It is about time that we made them a priority.

“I do know that we have a lot of things to do. We do have a lot of critical issues facing us, but we also have the critical needs of the families of those persons who make Hattiesburg the city that it is on the list of things that we definitely we need to do. There needs to be some kind of moral spectrum when it comes to what we pay people.”

The City Council unanimously passed the restructuring at Tuesday’s meeting. Delgado also said then that the lower-paid employees deserved pay raises.