In the next fiscal year, the city of Charleston will take what officials say is the first step in increasing the salaries of all city workers to at least $15 per hour.
The city’s proposed $112 million fiscal year 2024 budget includes raises for workers making $11.56 an hour, the city’s lowest wage, finance director Andy Wood told the Finance Committee Monday evening.
Those workers’ pay would be increased to $13 per hour in the next budget, Wood said. The first tier of raises will affect 312 employees, most of whom are in the streets and refuse departments, Wood said.
Wood presented the proposed budget to the Finance Committee before the council’s regular meeting. The budget will be up for City Council approval during its next meeting, on March 20. The budget year starts July 1.
The total cost for the raises this year would be $894,000, Wood said.
Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin announced in her State of the City address earlier this year a plan to increase the starting wage for all city workers to at least $15 per hour.
Goodwin said Monday the budget takes a “first and monumental” step in a process that should take three or four years.
“Everybody on [the] City Council — that’s the priority you told me that’s important to you,” Goodwin told the Finance Committee. “The folks that pick up our trash, the people who salt and treat the roads, and folks who are cutting grass and weed-whacking in 90-degree weather all day long in the city of Charleston.
“We have to be competitive with those folks, too, and make sure that we have the salaries to retain — to capture and to retain — those city employees, because they truly are the hardest-working folks in the city of Charleston.”
The city’s proposed budget also includes pay increases for experienced police officers, Wood said.
The police department’s pay schedule includes a rank system that increases pay by $138 per year, or 6 cents per hour, for each additional year of service, Wood said.
The budget proposal increases that amount to $250 per year, or about 12 cents per hour, with the goal of retaining experienced officers, Wood said.
“The average officer would see a raise of around $1,061,” he said. “That would be based on their years of service, and it compounds as you go up the steps, as each year progression gets a little bit higher.”
The total cost for the police department raises with base costs, benefits and overtime would be around $310,000 this year, Wood said.
The budget also keeps health care premiums for workers and retirees flat by absorbing a 16% increase in PEIA costs, Goodwin said. In December, the council approved putting $1 million toward a Health Care Reserve Premium Stabilization fund.
“That’s a large chunk of change, but we wanted to make sure that we gave our employees that this year,” Goodwin said. “Make no mistake about it, health care is going up.”
Goodwin said her administration will ask the Finance Committee to look at health care costs and “see where we need to go in the next couple of years.”
The budget also includes increasing an annual incentive for paramedics in the fire department from $2,400 a year to $2,750 a year. It also increases an incentive for ambulance shifts from $3 per hour to $3.5.
City firefighters would see changes in their sick time accrual. Currently, firefighters accrue eight hours of sick leave each month, Wood said. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts, which means it takes them three months to accrue the sick time needed to miss one shift.
The 2024 budget plan changes the sick time accrual from eight hours per month to 12 hours per month. Wood said the change hopefully would encourage firefighters to stay home when they’re sick.
The changes to the fire department budget would cost $256,000, Wood said.
The budget does not include any new fees or taxes, he said.
Also Monday, the City Council unanimously signed off on the appointment of Charleston attorney Ben Mishoe as city manager. He replaces Jonathan Storage, who left the city government at the end of 2022.
Goodwin told the council she wanted Mishoe to be city manager from the first conversation she had with him. She said she interviewed “a lot” of people for the role but was impressed that, when presented with a complex question, Mishoe answered that he would have to think more about the issue before giving an answer.
“That is somebody I want on my team,” Goodwin said. “Somebody who doesn’t always have to be the smartest person in the room, who knows that you have to dig a little deeper and ask more questions. Somebody who’s not there to show up, but to do the hard work. Somebody who’s going to work behind the scenes, who’s unflappable, and has impeccable integrity, and that is Ben Mishoe.”
The council also approved the submission of the city’s plan for the allocation of $2.5 million in HOME American Rescue Plan funds to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The funds are allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and are separate from the city’s allocation of $37 million in other federal coronavirus relief funds, Andy Backus, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, told the Finance Committee.
The funds are specifically designated to reduce homelessness and increase housing stability across the country and can only be used for certain activities, Backus said. To receive the funds, the city is required to submit a HOME ARP allocation plan, Backus said.
During the process, the areas of greatest need were identified as production and preservation of affordable rental housing and supportive services, including housing counseling and homeless prevention services, Backus said.
According to the plan, the city would allocate $650,000 toward supportive services and $1.5 million toward affordable rental housing.
Backus said the development of a noncongregant shelter is not part of the plan.