Greencastle city employees won't be getting the raises they were expecting for the beginning of the year -- at least not now.
Employees received a letter dated Dec. 31, 2008, informing them that Mayor Sue Murray had asked the clerk-treasurer "not to institute the approved salary increases for 2009 until we have a firm understanding as to how much of our 2007, payable 2008 tax revenue that we have been certified to receive we actually do get."
In October, the city council was mulling the idea of giving Murray a larger raise than the suggested $1,200 for 2009. It was Murray herself who advised against that move.
Although the salary ordinance was approved by the council, the power to enact it or not is left to the mayor.
Murray said the city received its May tax draw in December, and probably wouldn't get its November tax draw until February.
"Not giving raises was absolutely the last thing we wanted to do, but it was the most prudent thing to do," Murray said.
A city employee anonymously e-mailed a copy of Murray's letter to the Banner Graphic on Monday.
"I am disappointed to find out that the city of Greencastle has not made the choice to pay the employees, yet the city was able to complete phase one of replacing perfectly good street lights on the square," the employee wrote. "This was not a necessary improvement due to the fact that the lights worked properly. It was certainly an extremely expensive one, though. I guess I don't understand the priorities of the city anymore. Lights over employees."
Murray pointed out that the lights were paid for with redevelopment funds, which carry strict guidelines and cannot be used for salaries. She also said the new lights use a quarter of the energy the old ones did, which will translate to savings for the city.
Murray stressed that the suspension of the raises -- which average our to $700 per year per employee -- was not meant to be permanent. After the city receives the rest of its 2008 draw and has been certified for its 2009 spending, Murray plans to issue employees checks for the prorated amount of their increases, retroactive to Jan. 1.
"We had to decide which was the better option -- to give the raises and possibly not be able to continue them, or to give them retroactively after we know what our certified dollars are."
Murray said Greencastle is not dealing with anything other municipalities are not, and that when cuts have to be made sometimes it was necessary to start with the largest expenses -- usually personnel.
"These are strange and uncertain times," she said. "Salaries are the bulk of our budget. We can't pretend it's business as usual."
Murray said the raise suspension was in no way a reflection of the value of the city's employees.
"We will be more than happy to turn around and give them retroactive checks," she said. "We do have wonderful employees. They're the biggest part of what we do."