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City backs 1.9% boost in worker paychecks

But budget process could trim, scrap it

– City government employees will see an average 1.9 percent wage increase for 2014 – maybe.

Fort Wayne City Council members voted to approve salary ordinances Tuesday for city workers for next year, ordinances that include an average 1.9 percent increase in the base amount of pay.

But council members warned that funding for that increase won’t be decided until the council approves the budget next month, and that process could lower – or even eliminate – the amount of increase.

“When it comes to budget time, that money may not be available, and we may have to adjust it downward,” said John Crawford, R-at large.

Human Resources Director Mike Esselburn said much of the salary ordinance is annual procedure required by state law. Employees get step increases as they gain seniority or raises if they get promoted, and most of the measures approved Tuesday codify the charts city positions fall under.

But it also includes the across-the-board increase so that wages keep up with inflation. Inflation has been running about 2 percent.

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, asked administration officials for a calculation of what cuts employees experienced this spring when the council approved large changes to city benefits. Among the changes are requiring employees whose spouses are eligible for health insurance elsewhere to take that coverage as their primary policy instead of being on the city’s plan. There were also major changes in how sick time is awarded and used.

The administration estimated the changes would save the city up to $4 million, but it was unclear what the changes would mean to the overall compensation of individual workers. Jehl said it would help council members to decide on the wage increase if they knew what kind of hit workers had taken on the benefit side of the equation.

Council members voted 8-0 to approve the ordinances, with Marty Bender, R-at large, abstaining. Bender is a deputy police chief.

Ice arena remake

Council members voted unanimously to approve a $1.7 million contract with Weigand Construction to transform the McMillen Ice Arena into a community center. The ice arena closed in 2009. Officials hope that by this time next year the complex will be a community center that will have basketball, an indoor track and activities for children and adults. Parks department officials say they plan educational, social and health and fitness programs, including exercise and continued learning for older people and after-school programs and athletics for younger people.

The money for the project is from the Legacy Fund, which is money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility, City Power & Light. The fund is meant to pay for “transformative” projects that improve the quality of life in Fort Wayne.

Renovation work will begin in October and is expected to be finished next year. Parks Director Al Moll said the entire project was estimated to cost $4.5 million, but the bids for the first phase came in much lower than expected, allowing officials to do more work in the first phase than they planned.

Moll also said foundations and businesses have come forward to partner on the project that could allow the addition of an indoor playground at no cost to taxpayers.