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Jonesborough board passes budget on 1st reading, considers raises, staffing issues

Jessica Fuller • Jun 22, 2018 at 11:17 PM

Jonesborough’s budget for next year is on the way to its second reading, but not without some discussion on staffing priorities and raises. 

A compensation plan accompanied the general fund budget at a called meeting Friday morning for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to consider. Mayor Chuck Vest proposed a compensation plan at the beginning of the meeting that would split the compensation expenditure evenly among all full-time employees. 

“If we do that, any extra increase on the lower end is offset by a decrease on the upper end so the net result, there’s no increase in cost to do that,” Vest said after the meeting. “I think that’s where the discussion is going, it’s a desire to lift our starting pay.” 

Currently, base pay for grade 1 employees starts at $21,315 annually, or $10.25 per hour. Vest said during the meeting that the desire to increase starting pay came from an issue several departments are having with employees leaving for other agencies for higher pay after completing their training in Jonesborough, creating a lot of turnover. 

“I think in the long run it’s better for the supervisors because when you’re out there having to constantly replace those guys out there on the streets, it’s a headache,” Vest said during the discussion on the plan. “I do think it will help us recruit people on the lower end and helps make supervisors’ jobs less demanding without the constant turnover.” 

Operations manager Craig Ford pointed out there are several options for compensation plans the town could consider, such as those based on merit-based plan or a market-based plan.

Vest went on to say that offering more competitive pay could help in attracting more qualified applicants, but alderman David Sell said he thought it worked the other way around and that offering goals for an employee to work for will show merit rather than “throwing it all out there.” 

Ford added that being a small agency also has its drawbacks in retaining new employees, since a smaller department means less room for upward mobility, so new recruits look to larger agencies for promotions in addition to higher pay. 

“I think all of those are things you look at in the compensation plan, the starting pay yes, but also what can you do within your plan to keep them here and not lose them to larger agencies?” Ford asked. 

The board passed the proposed compensation plan for now, with the promise of some crunched numbers for other options to be presented at the board’s regular meeting July 9.

Diving into the proposed general fund budget, Sell brought up some concerns he had with what he considered to be “essential services,” like firefighters, police officers and street and maintenance workers. 

He said he felt like those positions had been placed on the back burner in favor of pay raises and job creation in other departments. Currently, the town has two paid firefighters and two or three police officers on duty per shift, which Ford and fire chief Phil Fritts said is less than ideal. 

The town has been utilizing a Protective Services Officer program to train police officers to be able to fight fires, but that still doesn’t wholly address the understaffing problem the town is experiencing for those positions. 

“It’s woefully understaffed, so what you have to do is change how you fight those fires basically to keep your personnel from getting injured or killed,” Ford said.

“The PSO program is certainly a good way to do that, but again, if you’ve only got two officers working a shift it’s going to be very hard to pull one of those officers and tie him up for three or four hours and engage him in fighting a fire. It’s a staffing level issue either way you look at it.

“I think we all can agree that police and fire is understaffed, but so is park and rec, so is street . . . that’s again what you have to deal and look at in a small town.”

Town administrator Bob Browning said that part of the issue is that sometimes Jonesborough’s paid firefighters are called to assist with county fires, but also pointed out that the town has made investments in public safety in the form of equipment like air packs and a new fire truck.

He said that he didn’t think the issue was that the departments were undervalued so much as it’s just that town officials are always looking for a way to improve its operations. 

The budget will get its second reading on the board’s regular meeting July 9. 

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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