FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly imposed a pay freeze on non-union employees minutes before passing the 2011 budget Thursday night.
The amendment was introduced by Assemblywoman Natalie Howard and supported by Assembly members Michael Dukes, Matt Want, Diane Hutchison and Joe Blanchard.
The other members, as well as Mayor Luke Hopkins, spoke strongly against the measure, saying it was unfair and poorly presented — after public comment and without any projection of savings.
“In a month and a half from now, when people were expecting to get those increases, they won’t get it,” Hopkins said. “I think it will be received as a demoralizing action. I think people will be bummed out.”
While most borough employees are unionized, several dozen — including department heads and part of the mayor’s office — are not. Those employees are given small raises in the budget each year to keep up with cost-of-living as well as with their unionized co-workers.
“The one thing we all know about this budget are that the greatest increases every year is in employee costs,” Howard said. “I haven’t made this personal. Other people have made this personal. I find that disturbing.”
Hutchison said the move was justified by economic conditions.
“In the private sector you can’t just expect when the economy is at a stagnant level to just keep increasing people’s taxes and not have the government adjust accordingly,” she said.
It doesn’t indicate that borough employees aren’t doing a good job, said Dukes.
“I took a five percent pay cut last year. It wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job, it was because the economy was tough. I have friends that have lost their jobs completely and they were doing a great job.”
Winters, Musick and Kassel criticized the amendment as bad-spirited and unnecessary.
“We’ve had three months to talk about this and now we get it at 8:40 p.m. in the last day of discussion,” Musick said. “I think this is really quite a slap in the face to the people who have been working hard for the community.”
He also criticized Howard for including no financial analysis of the wage freeze.
Beck warned that it could backfire financially.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that if we do this, you can rest assured that this time next year they will be represented employees and that cost will be many times higher.”
Kassel said the borough already pays department heads less than other governments in Alaska and this make them even less competitive.
“As parks and recreation director I was the least-paid parks and recreation director in the state of Alaska. I didn’t really mind that, although there were some times I considered other jobs,” he said. “I think this is a false area to go to try to save a few dollars and upset the leadership in the borough.”
Hopkins said some department heads were already looking at offers with better salaries.
The biggest blow goes to salaried workers who get no overtime pay, he said.
“I have people working Sunday nights to make sure everything’s ready to go Monday morning. That’s the work group that we’re affecting,” he said.
“We made a cut and we don’t even know what this saves.”
Contact staff writer Molly Rettig at 459-7590.