Linda Murphy, an employee of Artesia’s senior center, asks Artesia city leaders Tuesday night to reconsider how they handle large, private donations. The Artesia City Council voted Tuesday to accept a private donation that will restore 10 percent pay-cuts for the city’s police officers, firefighters and two librarians. (Jeff Tucker Photo)
ARTESIA — The Artesia City Council voted Tuesday night to accept a donation from an anonymous donor for an undisclosed amount that will restore pay-cuts for the city’s police officers, firefighters and two of the city’s librarians.
The addition of the two librarians was a new development in the donation announced earlier this month, which will make up the lost portion of the 10 percent cuts to salaries and wages for the city’s 31 certified police personnel, 31 firefighter/Emergency Medical Services personnel and two librarians for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“It is in the agreement with the donor,” Mayor Phil Burch told the Daily Record, regarding the donor’s anonymity. “We have some very generous folks living in Artesia.”
Burch and other city leaders declined after the meeting to disclose the identity of the donor, or the amount of the donation, projected to exceed $300,000 in order to restore the 10 percent pay-cuts.
Burch said he was honoring the donor’s request to remain anonymous.
“I’m sure within the community, it won’t take too long for people to figure that out, but I’m going to honor the request,” the mayor told the newspaper earlier this month.
The pay-cuts, which took effect Aug. 1, were approved by the Artesia City Council by a 6-1 vote during a public City Council retreat on July 31, when the city approved its final budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which began July 1.
Approval of the pay-cuts by the city’s police and fire departments was not necessary because they are non-union, Burch has said. City leaders sent an email to all city employees within hours of the decision taken by the City Council on a Sunday afternoon.
City Councilor Kent Bratcher told the newspaper after Tuesday’s meeting the donation was from an individual in Artesia, a city of about 11,000 people. Bratcher said the donation was made in a lump sum payment to the city.
“It’s bittersweet,” Bratcher said, since the donation doesn’t restore the pay-cuts for the city’s 120 other city employees, who will continue to take home reduced paychecks for the foreseeable future.
The City Council unanimously approved accepting the private donation Tuesday night, after Burch changed the language of the agenda item from “donation” to “grant.”
There was no discussion from city leaders prior to the vote, although two city employees urged the City Council to restore the pay-cuts for other city employees as soon as possible.
Dave Davies, an employee for the city’s solid waste department, said employees of the city’s solid waste, wastewater and water departments should not have been included in the pay-cuts because their departments are self-funded.
“With regard to this, I respectfully request that you reinstate full wages to the solid waste, wastewater and water departments,” Davies told city leaders. “As I’m sure you are all aware, these three departments, consisting of approximately 30 people, are enterprise funded, and so the cut in their wages does nothing to help the city’s general fund.”
Burch said city leaders had no choice but to suddenly cut the salaries and hourly pay rates of Artesia’s nearly 200 city employees by 10 percent due to an economic decline in The City of Champions, which has a heavy reliance on the oil and natural gas industries.
Burch said Artesia’s gross receipt tax revenues are down 40 percent from two years ago, and down 20 percent from the 2015-16 fiscal year that ended June 30. The mayor said the city’s $18 million general fund balance had to be reduced to $11 million to $12 million by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, under the budget approved July 31 with the pay-cuts. Burch said the city was facing a $4 million budget shortfall if the payroll reductions had not been implemented.
Burch said cuts were made in a number of other areas of the city’s current budget, including trimming expenses and capital projects, while job layoffs have been avoided.
Davies said employees of the solid waste, wastewater and water departments were included in the pay-cuts unnecessarily, as a symbolic gesture by city leaders.
“At a meeting last month of employees with the mayor, we were told not once, but repeatedly, that there is absolutely no financial benefit to the city’s general fund in cutting these departments’ wages as they are self-financing,” Davies said. “The only reason the mayor could give us was that, and I quote ‘We are all in this together.’
“As I said, we asked for clarification and were told repeatedly that the only reason these departments’ wages were cut was because everyone else’s had been cut, and it was the council’s decision that the cuts affect all employees, regardless of whether it helped the general fund or not.”
Davies said accepting the pay-cuts was a bitter pill to swallow, and the city employees understood the council’s reasoning, to a certain extent, until the donation.
“Now, with the advent of over 60 employees returning to full wages due to the very generous private donation, this reasoning now, obviously, no longer stands up to scrutiny,” Davies told the City Council. “So, I respectfully request that the council stops inflicting this unnecessary financial hardship on these employees and their families and reinstate their 10 percent pay-cut.”
Linda Murphy, an employee of Artesia’s senior center, asked for a “glimpse of hope” of when all city employees would have their full wages restored. She said big companies would again likely donate to the city.
“You’re going to have to deal with it again. Please don’t deal with it the same way,” Murphy said. “I ask you, please think more seriously. I do ask you to give it more thought.”
Senior Writer Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at email@example.com.