The town plans to give it workers a better benefits package, but it could come at the cost of several new positions Apex officials previously had planned on creating to help overworked employees.
Last year, Apex created eight new positions. Throughout the recession, it created few, if any, positions in any given year.
But for 2015-16 fiscal year, Town Manager Bruce Radford has proposed hiring 28 new workers. That includes 12 firefighters, four police positions plus various jobs in code enforcement, parks and recreation, IT and other departments.
That didn’t go over well with Mayor Bill Sutton, who said the town’s staff would grow at double the rate of the town’s population in such a scenario.
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“It seems to me, to go from eight to 28 is an excessive increase,” he said.
Of the 28 proposed jobs, Sutton said the new firefighters – needed to staff a new fire station – are non-negotiable. That leaves 16 positions to possibly eliminate.
Sutton suggested ranking them by need and only hiring the eight most critical positions. Several council members agreed.
“If we were to cut the eight, would we be able to strengthen the benefits for current staff?” Nicole Dozier said. “That’s what I’m interested in.”
Denise Wilkie agreed, saying the town should focus on taking care of and retaining its current employees before creating new positions.
“It’s more costly to train somebody than to keep somebody that we already have,” she said.
The money that could be saved from eliminating eight of the proposed positions – about half a million dollars a year – would pay for the new benefits the Town Council unanimously approved Tuesday.
The town will now pay 40 percent of dependents’ medical insurance, an increase from 30 percent. That will cost the town about $228,000. There’s also a plan to add vision insurance.
Gene Schulze, who leads the council’s personnel committee, said employee retention isn’t a major concern. The town has a 7 percent turnover rate, he said, and anything below 10 percent is considered good.
He said he also isn’t concerned about hiring all 28 proposed positions – or at least not as concerned as he is with the budget proposal to use savings to buy a fire truck and rescue vehicle.
“We should be learning to live within our means right now, for when we stop growing,” Schulze said. “Down the road it’s going to require a tax increase to fix, and I would not support that.”
The discussion about personnel will resume at the next budget work session Tuesday, June 9.
Use of fund balance
Radford said the Town Council instructed him several years ago to start using some of the savings, known as the fund balance. Apex has $14 million in savings, he said, and can spend much of that without worry. The state requires municipalities to have at least 8 percent of their budget in the fund balance.
“We did have a four-year plan to spend about $1.5 million in fund balance each and every year,” Radford said.
But the town didn’t spend anything from the fund balance in the first two years of the plan and instead added $3 million.
In the third year, the town spent $500,000. This is the fourth year of that plan.
Council member Scott Lassiter said he wished the town would spend some of the money. It accrues very little interest, several town officials have said – 1 percent at best. Lassiter said because the money came from taxpayers, the taxpayers deserve to see it put to use.
“Businesses, families and governments, when the skies are bright, that’s when you spend money,” he said. “And our skies, financially, are pretty sunny in Apex right now. That’s one reason why spending money out of fund balance doesn’t concern me.”
But he couldn’t convince the rest of the council and was the only dissenter in a 4-1 vote to balance the budget without using any savings.
Later, the council voted to reverse a position it had taken less than a week earlier, also regarding fund balance. There had been a unanimous vote to lower the amount of money the town puts into savings each year. But Tuesday, the council changed its mind with a 3-2 vote to keep its current level of savings, which is more than quadruple the required minimum.
Dozier and council member Bill Jensen voted against the plan.
“It’s just people’s tax dollars that we’ve sucked out and are just sitting on,” Jensen said.
The council will hold a public hearing Tuesday, June 16, before voting on the budget that day.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Want to go?
The council will have a budget work session to discuss an amended budget Tuesday, June 9, at 5 p.m. on the third floor of Town Hall.
The council will hold a final public hearing on the budget at its next council meeting Tuesday, June 16 at 7 p.m. Afterward, they will vote on the budget.