Dewey Beach commissioners voted March 9 to give preliminary approval to the 2020 fiscal year budget.
The budget includes a 2.5 percent wage increase and an amendment for the town manager to speak with department heads about raising lifeguard and seasonal police salaries.
Preliminary approval followed a March 8 vote by Dewey’s budget and finance committee to submit a draft budget to commissioners after disagreement arose over wage increases, which continued in the commissioners’ meeting.
The budget shows $3.54 million in revenue and $3.52 million in spending, with a net income just under $18,000. Town Manager Scott Koenig suggested a 3 percent wage increase for year-round employees, stating each percent increase costs about $12,000.
During the budget and finance committee meeting, member Zeke Przygocki suggested a 4 percent increase.
“I apologize for springing it,” he said. “We really do have some of the lowest paid and hardest working people around, and I don’t think that $12,000 is going to make or break this town council.”
Koenig said the budget is tight and already includes $15,000 for employee bonuses.
A budget committee motion to suggest a 4 percent raise to commissioners passed 5-2; Przygocki, Jill Compello, Chair Dave Davis, Bill Stevens and Phil Winkler voted for, while Nancy McCloskey and Lynn Winkler voted against.
New this year is a category for unbudgeted capital projects, studies and vehicles, which Koenig said commissioners can fund with infrastructure or set-aside funds.
Staffing restructuring included moving a fulltime maintenance position to parttime. Unspent salary from that change was reallocated and a second administrative assistant was hired. A fulltime police officer was also added.
Davis presented the draft budget to commissioners at their March 9 meeting, suggesting the 4 percent wage increase and a recommendation for a 3 percent ceiling on any hotel tax considered by council.
Commissioner Dale Cooke said a study had not been done to justify a 4 percent wage increase.
“It went from 3 to 4 percent, and there was no discussion of why except they’re great people,” Cooke said. “I agree they’re great people, but you just don’t add another percentage, another $12 grand to your budget, because they’re great people. You have to have a logical reason. We have no logic for what we base raises on except it’s the right thing to do.”
Cooke recommended temporarily approving the budget to meet charter requirements and deferring final approval until council’s March 30 meeting.
Commissioner David Moskowitz proposed raising salaries for lieutenant lifeguards, EMTs and seasonal police. He spoke against an across-the-board salary increase, preferring a merit-based system.
Davis said the committee had three meetings and a joint workshop with commissioners that could have resolved questions ahead of time.
“Why aren’t you using the committee the way you’re supposed to by asking questions during the meetings?” he asked. “I got zero questions on most of these things from you at any of the three meetings. Some of this stuff I consider grandstanding, some of it’s legitimate.”
Koenig said, “None of this was sent to me ahead of time to calculate. The beach patrol and chief have not expressed displeasure at seasonal salaries. It would put the budget out of balance if I implemented those salary increases.”
Commissioner Gary Persinger said he raised questions about budget items before the 2019 budget was adopted. He said he submitted detailed questions in October and did not receive answers to all of them until March 7.
“I think we’re all trying to do the best job we can, and I take objection to your comment about grandstanding,” he said. “I don’t think anyone up here is grandstanding. I think we’re all trying to do the best job we can, as you are as well.”
Cooke told Davis that having a budget meeting the night before a commissioners’ vote does not give the public enough time to review the budget. He said because of FOIA concerns, he did not ask certain questions during previous meetings.
“We have to assume you were trying to do a good job,” Cooke said. “We only request that you also make that same assumption. We’re trying to do something for the town. Don’t assume we’re grandstanding or doing something wrong.”
Final approval is set for the commissioners’ next meeting at 9 a.m., Saturday, March 30.