Charleston Council Approves COLA Increase

September 20, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Warwick Jones
Citizen Reporter

It was mostly “bread-and-butter” items on the agenda for the Sept. 8 Charleston County Council Finance Committee meeting.

In a sense, this was particularly true for county employees as the committee approved a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment in wages and salaries for all employees. However, the remuneration of council members remained unaltered.

Not all members of council voted for the increase. Council members Dickie Schweers and Joseph Qualey were surprised that after the difficult 2012 budget deliberations, $2 million could be found so quickly to fund the increase.

They also claimed that staff provided insufficient information to explain how the funds became available. Staff told the committee that revenues were presently increasing at a higher level than anticipated and at levels that would allow the 2 percent increase.

However, the higher revenue flow would not justify a larger increase.

Qualey wanted more information before voting for the increase. Schweers was more conservative and reminded the committee of the difficulties of taxpayers in the weak economy.

He also noted that some staff had enjoyed “longevity” raises. These amounted to 3 percent after being employed for one, three, five, seven and 10 years. Thereafter, the raises were 5 percent after every five years.

Council members Vic Rawl and J. Elliott Summey, who supported the increase, noted that there had been no COLA for two years. In that period, employees were required to pay more of the cost of their health insurance.

This increase amounted to an average of $100 a month for each employee, or about $1,200 a year. So in a sense, the increase did not make the change in employees’ remuneration “whole.”

The 2 percent increase, assuming council approves it, will be effective beginning in October. The cost for fiscal 2012 will be about $2.2 million, and about $2.9 million for a full year.