LOOGOOTEE – A cautious Loogootee City Council unanimously approved merging four city departments into a Department of Works during a special meeting late Wednesday afternoon.
The council approved a motion by Councilman Rick Norris to approve the merger until the end of the year, after which the council will decide whether it should continue. The motion also called for a 25-cent per hour pay raise for Utilities Manager Bo Wilson, who will be superintendent of the new department, and will be in charge of the hiring of a new employee.
During the regular monthly council meeting Aug. 12, Wilson had recommended merging the water, wastewater, street, and park and recreation departments. He said the pending retirement of Street Superintendent Don Grindstaff provided a unique opportunity to create a Department of Works.
Wilson said the city would save $5,400 in salaries next year under his proposal, because there would only be one superintendent instead of two. He had proposed hiring two new employees and an additional pay raise for the department’s employees beyond the 75-cent per hour increase already agreed upon for 2014.
Under the Department of Works concept, Wilson said all employees would be cross-trained so they could work in any area if needed.
Mayor Noel Harty opened the special meeting by saying he had talked to a lot of people since Aug. 12 about Wilson’s proposal and everyone seemed to have a different opinion. He said Wilson’s ideas made sense and were fiscally responsible.
“My reservation is that it might not work,” Harty said.
Wilson told the council he has been working for the city for 25 years and they usually had nine employees covering the four departments which would merge. However, as of Wednesday, the number of full-time employees was down to six, not counting Grindstaff, who is no longer working but will be paid until sometime in September due to accumulated vacation days and other compensatory time.
Sam Strange voluntarily moved from full-time to part-time Tuesday and will only work as a meter reader.
A few months ago, John Fraley, also a councilman, left his position with the city for another job and was not replaced.
The city’s 2014 salary ordinance is part of the proposed budget, but must be approved by the state Department of Local Government Finance. The ordinance called for Wilson to be paid $46,280 next year. The other employees would be paid between $28,808 and $33,730, depending on their job position and longevity.