Rock Hill council to consider pay raises, utility rate hikes

adouglas@heraldonline.comJune 22, 2014 

Rock Hill City Hall

PAUL OSMUNDSON — Posmundson@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

  • Quick look at proposed utility increases

    Rock Hill residents could soon pay an average of $7.66 more each month for utility services. Most of the increase comes from a 6 percent electric rate hike city officials say is needed to cover the rising cost of buying power.

    The city is contractually obligated to buy power from the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency, or PMPA.

    PMPA owns about 25 percent of one of the Catawba Nuclear Plant’s two reactors. Since the 1990s, PMPA has steadily increased its price for the 10 South Carolina cities that purchase power for customers.

    Compared to 10 years ago, Rock Hill residents are paying about 30 percent more for electricity as a result of PMPA’s rising price.

    Rock Hill officials say customer rate hikes should slow over the next few years as PMPA finishes paying the debt incurred for part of the Catawba plant’s reactors.

    Residents are also facing this year a 71-cent monthly increase on stormwater fees. Businesses may pay between 20 to 30 percent more, if City Council approves the fee hike.

    To begin fixing stormwater drainage issues around Rock Hill, city leaders say the stormwater fee increase is needed. The rate hike will bring in about $700,000 more next year, officials estimate, which will pay for improvement projects.

The Rock Hill City Council is expected to decide Monday night whether residents will pay nearly $90 more each year on city utility services, whether to award city employees a 2 percent salary bump this year and whether the elected body should see a 3 percent pay raise in 2016.

The proposed utility cost increases – for electric and stormwater services – are part of the city’s $204 million budget, which will guide spending from July 2014 to June 2015.

If the utility increases pass a mandatory second vote, Rock Hill residents will pay 6 percent more – or $7 extra each month – for electricity and an average 71 cents extra on monthly stormwater fees. The electric rate hike will also impact businesses, and those utility customers will see monthly stormwater fees increase by between 20 and 30 percent.

The suggested 2 percent performance-based employee pay raise is slightly more than last year’s 1.5 percent salary increase approved for Rock Hill employees.

The proposed City Council member pay increases are part of a bi-annual compensation review that officials signed off on in October after realizing the mayor and council members hadn’t received a pay raise in nearly 25 years.

If the council pay raises pass a mandatory second vote, Rock Hill’s six council members each will make $16,838 – a $490 raise – starting in 2016 after the next election cycle. The mayor will make $26,437 annually – a $770 raise.

The majority of the City Council voted two weeks ago in support of the utility rate hikes, the future council pay raise and the pay raises for city staff members. Council members must vote twice to approve the city’s spending plan before July 1.

Two weeks ago, council members Kevin Sutton and John Black voted against the stormwater fee hikes and the council pay raises. Councilwoman Kathy Pender also opposed the pay raises.

Pender explained her opposition, saying Rock Hill’s elected body shouldn’t plan for raises in 2016 after recently giving themselves a pay raise in October, which nearly doubled their salaries for 2014. Before this year, council members made $8,000 in salary with an annual $1,800 stipend for job-related expenses. The mayor made $12,542 in salary and $3,600 for expenses.

Mayor Doug Echols and others who support the pay raises argue that the council needs to periodically review its salaries to “keep pace” instead of falling behind as they have over the past two decades. Last August, he initiated a citizen’s compensation committee to evaluate whether City Council members needed to be paid more.

That group found that over the past 25 years, Rock Hill’s services and demands from citizens have expanded. And city employees were making nearly double in 2013 what they were earning more than two decades ago. In that same time period, City Council salaries had remained the same.

In October 2013, all council members except Pender voted to accept one of the committee’s recommendations to nearly double the council’s annual compensation.

This year’s proposed 3 percent increase for City Council pay would take effect in 2016. If council members reject the proposed pay raise, members will not be up for another salary increase until 2018.

Rock Hill’s management officials say they suggested the 3 percent raise for 2016 after studying inflation over the past two years and the rate of salary increases that city employees have received.

Monday’s meeting is open to the public. City Council meets at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at Rock Hill City Hall, located at 155 Johnston St.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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