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Raises for city workers, but not all of them

City of Ashland workers who had 3.5 percent cost-of-living raises in their contracts will continue to get those this year, while many others whose contracts were up this year have agreed to go without.

Known in both the public and private sector as cost-of-living-adjustments, or COLAs, the raises are meant to help keep workers' wages in line with the rising cost of goods and services.

However, many consumer price indices show the cost of living is actually flat or slightly down this year because of the recession.

City of Ashland employees who aren't represented by unions, including department heads and secretaries, had agreed before the spring budgeting process not to take a COLA.

If the city had given those workers a COLA raise of 3.5 percent, it would have cost the city $226,000, according to Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg.

Work contracts for police officers and clerical and technical workers expired on June 30.

Those workers recently agreed to new contracts that include no COLAs. They will also pay a $200 deductible for health care, up from $100, according to a city staff memo to the Ashland City Council.

The council ratified labor agreements between the city of Ashland and the unions representing those workers on Tuesday.

The contracts include provisions that either the city or the unions can reopen the contracts in the second or third year to negotiate compensation changes, according to the staff memo.

The city is still in negotiations with the union that represents firefighters, said Ashland Human Resources Director Tina Gray.

If firefighters join the police officers and clerical and technical workers in agreeing to go without COLAs, that would save the city $214,500, according to Tuneberg.

The city did not include money to cover COLAs for those groups in this fiscal year's budget.

City officials had asked laborers and electrical workers to voluntarily give up 3.5 percent COLAs that are in their contracts this year. Their contracts were not up for negotiation this year.

The laborers and electrical workers elected to keep receiving the 3.5 percent COLAs that were bargained into their contracts, Gray said.

The city did budget money to cover the $126,180 cost of paying for those increases.

Aside from increasing deductibles from $100 to $200, city officials did not ask workers to take on more of the cost of their health insurance. City employees pay 5 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

The city is in the midst of a compensation study and won't be considering changes to most aspects of compensation, including employee contributions for health insurance, until it's finished, Gray said.

The city is also not suspending "step increases." Those are the gradual raises new hires get, usually during their first three and a half years of working for the city.

Gray said those step increases can't be changed in most cases because they are stipulated in workers' contracts. Usually two to three employees each month become eligible for an increase.

The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee and Ashland City Council laid off city workers for this fiscal year — including parks, sewer and water workers — while also raising property taxes to preserve jobs in the police and fire departments.

Although consumer price indices show little inflation or even slight deflation, city workers who live in Ashland and other residents may feel like the cost of living is going up. The city of Ashland has raised water and sewer fees to help deal with budget problems, and the company Ashland Sanitary & Recycling has increased garbage collection fees.

Rents dipped earlier in the recession, but some property management companies are now raising rents.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.