Trash collectors in Columbia should get fair compensation for their work, Mayor Brian Treece said Monday.
“There are refuse collectors that have been here for five to 12 years that are still making $13 an hour,” he said. “We need to reward them with the same dignity that other cities do.”
The mayor made this statement at the Columbia City Council’s first work session on the $458 million budget that City Manager Mike Matthes proposed in July. The city has had recent trouble hiring and retaining full-time trash collectors, given the relatively low pay and high rate of injuries that come with the job. Columbia’s Solid Waste Utility requires 30 full-time trash and recycling collectors but only has 17.
Treece said that the current staff is doing twice the amount of work.
“When you’re doing that much work the conditions become more dangerous,” he said. “You’re more at risk for accidents.”
Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp and Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala agreed with Treece and suggested raising the entry level pay by at least $2 an hour.
“We’re having a huge problem trying to maintain personnel,” Skala said. “It’s a vital service, and it’s not a program we can just cut. So, $12 an hour for a very dangerous job is not really living wage. They asked for $2, and I don’t think that’s outrageous.”
Matthes said in an interview after the work session that he’s going to try to increase proposed raises for solid waste workers. He previously proposed a 25-cent-per-hour raise for all city workers in an effort to stay within the council’s current policy resolution, which requires pay equity across city departments.
“Every employee we have is underpaid right now,” Matthes said. “There is no question that all city employees deserve something, and the sanitation workers have a particularly hard job.”
Matthes also said he heard from the council during the work session that they were willing to go beyond this policy. He also said that if he can start looking at rate increases for city services, he could raise wages.
The council also considered several other issues at the work session.
Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer emphasized the need for a new fire station in southwest Columbia and shared his ideas for how to fund it. It would cost around $2.5 million, according to a budget presentation at the meeting.
He listed possible sources for the funding, including money from excess fund balances, unspent savings from previous years and excess General Fund reserves.
Matthes said in an interview that though some of the money Pitzer talked about was allocated to other things, he feels confident the council will find the money to build the station.
Toward the end of the meeting, Treece asked the council to consider naming a new police precinct in northern Columbia after fallen officer Molly Bowden. She died from gunshot wounds after a traffic stop in 2005 near the corner of Nifong and Forum boulevards.
“I think it would go a long way not only to recognize her sacrifice, but it would also improve morale and would potentially help with recruitment to know that police officers come in all sizes and genders,” Treece said.
The council will hold the second round of public hearings on the budget at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. next Monday. It is scheduled to take a final vote on the budget at its Sept. 17 meeting. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
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