Summey wants to reward workers

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has proposed giving city employees a $1,000 annual pay increase.

With the economy in the doldrums, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey wants to give city employees a $1,000 annual pay increase in his upcoming budget.

The boost, which must still be discussed by City Council, would give the biggest benefit to employees at the lower end of the city's pay scale, a group Summey said needs to be rewarded the most.

For instance, for a worker making $20,000 a year, the increase signifies a 5 percent boost in pay. For someone making $50,000, it would be only a 2 percent increase. The city has about 1,085 employees.

Under Summey's proposal, employees who have demonstrated a performance rating of satisfactory or better would be eligible for the increase.

"I think it's a statement to our employees that we're trying to look out for them," he said.

Money for the increase would come from the end of a three-year lease-purchase contract of public safety radio equipment. The contract is expiring, freeing up the extra cash.

Summey said he opted against returning the money to taxpayers as a rebate, saying the payment would be minimal when compared with the benefits of rewarding employees in a sour economy. Based on the city's current tax rate, the owner of a house valued at $100,000 would probably receive less than $4 under such a rebate, according to City Hall estimates.

Summey also said that the increase, which is proposed as part of his 2010-11 budget, is warranted because city employees did not get a salary increase last year while costs tied to employee health insurance rose.

One of City Council's more conservative members said Monday that he's already decided to support the request. Councilman Steve Ayer said the city is sending a mixed message by raising health care costs and not giving raises last year, while at the same time the mayor is proposing the city buy troubled Shipyard Square Shopping Center. North Charleston is buying the Rivers Avenue site for $2.5 million with plans to redevelop it.

"It's our duty to take care of the employees," Ayer said.

The city is in its budget-reviewing stage, with City Council holding a budget retreat later this month on a projected $85.5 million spending plan that would take effect July 1. There are no tax increases proposed.