Raises are in store for most Mesa city workers
Jim Walsh, Tribune Staff Writer
Breanna Grigsby for (CNT) City New and Talk #mesa-az https://mesanewsandtalk.com
Mesa employees will receive a generous New Year’s present – a pay raise designed to compensate them for lost wages while they were working long hours during the pandemic earlier this year.
Freezes on pay raises, hiring and layoffs in certain departments were among the steps taken by City Manager Chris Brady to compensate for an anticipated drop in sales tax revenue after remaining Cactus League games were canceled and Gov. Doug Ducey shut down many businesses.
Brady said the drop in sales tax receipts was not as steep as he expected, mainly because of federal aid during the pandemic and a change in the shopping patterns of Mesa residents.
Like most municipal and state officials, governments are discovering that people shifted to more online purchases – which as of a year ago were subjected to sales tax.
“I will confess, I am surprised,’’ Brady said. “Mostly, it had to do with our sales tax numbers staying strong.’’
Sales taxes, utility revenues and state shared revenue are the bulwarks of Mesa’s revenue. The city is prone to gyrations in funding because it is the largest municipality in the nation without a primary property tax.
In a letter to employees, Brady said Mesa is in a position financially to afford the pay raise.
“For the past three years the City has improved its financial reserves and managed its long-term obligations. And despite the many economic uncertainties that continue to face most of our country, Mesa has benefitted from both a growing economy and a shift to online and local spending. As a result, the City’s financial forecast is sound,’’ he wrote.
Mesa’s full-time employees next month will receive the 3 percent step increase that they never got in July.
But that’s not all.
Mesa also is increasing the maximum pay range for jobs by 5 percent, which also veteran employees in public safety and other departments who had “topped out’’ to receive the step increase.
Employees also will receive a $2,000 one-time check in January, a combination of pay they never received because of the freeze and a little extra as compensation for working long hours, on weekends and from home to pull off the Mesa Cares COVID-19 relief effort.
Brady announced the pay raise to employees in a video message.
“We realize all employees have been impacted somehow by COVID in your personal life. Many of you have had to work from home, many have had to work different hours,” he told them.
“The inconvenience of COVID has been impactful on all employees. So all employees that were employed with the City on July 1st, 2020 and will be employed on January 1st, 2021 will be eligible for a check of $2,000.”
Part-time employees will receive a $1,000 check in January. Brady said the city has about 4,000 employees.
Mesa Cares started with a needs survey and turned into an umbrella for a full array of social service programs. The services included food supplies, prepared meals, utility assistance, a sweeping Business Re-emergence program to help small businesses, and an Off the Streets program for the homeless.
“It’s trying to make up for the pay they didn’t get in July,’’ Brady said. “It’s more than just making up the pay they received. There was a lot of hazardous pay and hard work.’’
Parks employees suddenly found themselves distributing food boxes after most recreation programs were shutdown to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Libraries were closed, but librarians quickly became jacks-of-all trades, conducting the initial survey and helping business owners fill out applications for the Business Re-emergence Program.
Brady said he wanted to reward employees for their flexibility and dedication.
He added that the reassignments also saved many jobs, with salaries paid out from the city’s windfall of $90 million in federal COVID-19 aid.
“Employees didn’t receive any pay increase and they were asked to do a lot more,’’ Brady said. “Many of them did a completely different job.’’
Originally, Brady said he was thinking about rewarding employees with a $1,000 payment, but he increased that to $2,000 after Vice Mayor Mark Freeman and Councilman Kevin Thompson argued for a larger increase during a council study session.
Brady said Mesa and the rest of the state and country are still in uncertain times, but he anticipates the city will gradually begin filling empty positions that accumulated during the hiring freeze.
Many of those positions will be affected by the planned re-opening of facilities closed during the pandemic, including the libraries and the Mesa Arts Center.
Public safety positions, mainly police recruits and firefighters, were not covered by the freeze and normal hiring practices were continued. Mesa voters approved a small sales tax increase in 2018 to fill those positions.