ROCKVILLE – While the city passed its $118 million 2015 fiscal year budget this week, the battle for how the city will spend its money may be far from over.
The budget passed 4-1 and calls for some raises for city employees, though not nearly the amount police and other city staffers had endorsed. Council member Beryl Feinberg was the lone dissenting vote. Councilmember Virginia Onley and Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton expressed their displeasure before voting in favor of passing the amended budget.
“It is very difficult to vote against a budget…but for me, it came down to a decision that without giving a clear signal to our constituents in the broader sense that I just cannot vote for it, there were choices to be made and for me the choice was to give some money back to our tax relief this year. I do feel there are many good things in our budget and I am proud to be colleagues with you on many of the points and things that are in here,” said Feinberg.
Though Onley and Newton’s ultimately voted with the majority, they both said they were upset with recent employee negotiations. Rockville City Police, its union and their supporters have lobbied the council and mayor for stepped-pay increases. The police have not received a stepped-pay increase since 2010, though this year police and other employees received a two percent cost of living increase and merit bonuses.
“I will say that I will vote for the budget but I don’t think it’s been the best of processes and I am disappointed that Councilmember Onley and I weren’t successful in convincing our colleagues to be more clear in the way we wish to send a message to our employees who have supported us through some very difficult times,” said Mayor Newton.
Another citizen group, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 1453, Council 67 attended the May 12 hearing to express concerns similar to those voiced by the Rockville Police and their supporters. The AFSCME represents public works employees, which include plumbers, trash workers, carpenters, and water treatment plant operators. The workers were offered a two percent cost of living raise and a 3.5 percent merit increase lump sum payment but union members rejected the city’s offer. Blackwell said the workers were originally told by city representatives the bonuses would be added to their base pay as a pay raise.
“They simply broke another promise to them after telling them they would resume their merit steps as well as a decent cost of living adjustment and in this round they didn’t do that and they didn’t seem to want to either,” said union representative Archie Blackwell.
The workers have received yearly bonuses but they are not added to their base pay or guaranteed. Blackwell said the average worker makes up to $34,000 a year.
Blackwell said the group is contractually barred from striking but said the public will continue lobbying for what they say they were promised.
“They got the most important groups upset and angry at the city because those are the most critical groups. They got the police that enforce the law and the public works that make sure all the things make the city function are done and if you got two those groups mad at you. That’s not a very good thing as we see it,” said Blackwell.