Raises for city employees: Berryville council approves 2022 budget

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Berryville city employees will soon be getting a raise thanks to a cost-of-living adjustment included in the city’s budget for the 2022 fiscal year.

The Berryville City Council voted unanimously to approve the approximately $15.5 million budget during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

Mayor Tim McKinney called it “a good budget.”

“We've got a lot of things going, and hopefully we'll have a good year,” McKinney said.

During the meeting, council member Jason Williams requested more information regarding revenue from the city’s RV park, which is projected to generate approximately $75,500 admission and usage fees.

“If it keeps making money, we may have to quit calling it a park,” McKinney said. “We have talked about raising our rates. I think, comparatively, we’re a pretty cheap place to stay. We're well below the average market for this area, so maybe this spring we may hike those up a little bit.”

The new budget projects the city’s total estimated revenue at $15,806,200, including $3.9 million from the general fund, $2 million from the water system fund and approximately $1.3 million each from the sewer system fund and the half-cent sales tax improvement bond funds.

In addition to the COLA raise, the budget also includes a $2-an-hour raise for patrol officers in the city’s police department as part of an upgrade to the city’s seven-step pay scale “to better compete with surrounding job opportunities for those with the equivalent skill set,” according to a summary document presented to the council.

“This is the biggest cost-of-living raise we've had in a long, long time, 10 years, at least,” said city administrative assistant Jay Lee. “We try to index it to either the Social Security COLA that happens every year and kind of use that, plus the consumer price index. We use both of those factors to kind of come up with our proposed COLA raise.

“This year, obviously with inflation going crazy, both of those were astronomical. In fact, 6 percent is not as high as what I think both were showing.”

The city has approximately 40 full-time employees and an additional 12-15 part-timers in addition to a number of seasonal part-timers.

Employee salaries cost the city approximately $2.284 million each year, with the police department — as the largest department — taking the largest chunk. According to the 2022 budget, police department salaries are expected to total $807,500, including certificate and overtime pay. The Berryville Community Center is second-highest, with a total of $311,000, including both full- and part-time employees, followed by the street department at $283,000.

“That's just the salaries figure,” Lee said. “I mean, you have to add in health insurance, retirement expense, payroll taxes. Salaries, once you count all the incidentals that go along with it, is a major expense for the city.”

The budget overview provided to the council stated that the city’s “capital outlay expenditures have been cut to a very basic level.” Those expenditures will be re-evaluated after six month to determine the amount of funds available for any projects or purchases, aside from those that were specifically outlined in the budget.

Lee said the city’s new Eco-Industrial Park and any matching funds required by grants that have previously been awarded to the city will be given top priority for capital outlay funds.

“There were no real surprises in the budget process this time around,” Lee said. “We did leave capital outlay pretty slim again this year, just because we have a lot of projects that we have to provide matching funds to, so we're wanting to make sure that we're good and covered on the grants that we have to pay a cash match for.”

Those projects include a planned project to improve the signal lights at the intersections of U.S. 62 and West Church Avenue and U.S. 62 and West Madison Avenue on the downtown square, in addition to the industrial park, which Lee called the city’s biggest obligation, with a total outlay of $3.85 million.

“About $1.5 million of that is a grant that we have through the [U.S. Economic Development Administration],” Lee said, “and then a little over $1.3 million of our match is going to come from the the final draws on on the sewer and street improvement bond funds that we passed in 2017.”

In 2017, the city passed a temporary 10-year half-cent sales tax to fund several projects.

“That is the last little bit of money that we have remaining from those improvement bonds that were set up after the passage of the sales tax in the bond issue,” Lee said. “The final just over a million dollars is coming from city revenues that we have available. Most of that will be coming out of the general fund, but smaller portions of it will be coming from the street and sewer fund as well.”

Lee said the industrial park project should be a big boon for the city’s economic development.

“That project, once it gets finished, is going to hopefully provide exciting opportunities for the city as far as economic development goes,” Lee said. “Hopefully some new or expanding businesses or at least retaining and expansion of existing businesses.”

The other major expenses outlined in the budget are recurring expenses, including water and sewer treatment and solid waste management.

In addition, Lee said, the city is planning to make some improvements at the Saunders Museum and the city cemetery.

“We’ve been very successful in the last four or five years,” Lee said in regard to the museum. “That has helped, but the biggie has been the donation that we received from the Alice George family. We’re going to be able to do some very nice improvements at the museum, and also at the cemetery. They gave a donation for both of those.”

Other highlights, he said, include new playground equipment for the soccer complex and the completion of the renovation project on the downtown square.

“I think we'll be able to probably at least finish up the square proper this year with with the new pavilion,” Lee said. “You'll see a $50,000 capital outlay there for the new pavilion. We’re excited about that.”

Lee added that the budget process also highlighted how fortunate Berryville has been, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The city of Berryville has been very blessed in our revenues throughout this whole COVID mess and everything,” Lee said. “We have made it through all this much better than a lot of a lot of cities. I'm so thankful for our local community shopping local and doing all that, because it does make a difference. “Every time you can spend a dollar here in your hometown, it certainly makes a difference in the grand scheme of things.”

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