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|OPPJ workers in line for raise|
A majority of the employees at the Ouachita Parish Police Jury will get a 3 percent cost of living pay raise in 2009.
Police jurors approved its $85 million budget for the 2009 fiscal year last week during its regular meeting. The 2009 budget included the 3 percent pay hike for many police jury employees.
Most parish departments will get a 3 percent cost of living increase. However, the parish fire department received a 4 percent increase, and public works got a 5 percent increase.
Parish treasurer Brad Cammack said the 2009 budget would allow for the proposed increases by each department.
"I think it was shown to you when the budgets were presented that the budgets would be able to handle the cost of living percentages that were put into the budget for 2009," Cammack said.
For the past several years the police jury has approved a 2 ½ percent cost of living increase.
When the 2009 budget was being prepared, the police jury considered an across-the-board 3 percent increase pay raise. Eventually, the police jury agreed to grant each department its requested increase. Public Works received the highest increase at 5 percent.
Police juror Mack Calhoun lobbied the jury to give Public Works employees the increase.
"Public Works employees have been underpaid for years," Calhoun said, adding that too often Public Works trains employees, only to see them leave for better paying jobs in the private sector.
"We're the trainers for the construction and pipeline companies," Calhoun said. "When we get them they can't drive a tractor or a dozer, and as soon as we train them they go from making $10 an hour to $60 an hour (working for other companies)."
"I am tired of being the trainer for somebody else," he added.
Calhoun praised Public Works director John Tom Murray, saying, "Nobody watches his budget like Mr. Murray."
"Mr. Murray has done outstanding work with the budget and I stand for giving 5 percent for public works," Calhoun explained. "We've got 900 miles of roads and 1,800 miles of ditches, and these people work hard. He set his budget at 5 percent, and even at that, they're not going to get anything, hardly."
Police juror Pat Moore agreed with Calhoun, adding that the police jury asked each department to come up with a budget it can live with, so the police jury should trust them.
"We really need to look at what the economy is going to be, so if this is what they are requesting, then we go ahead with it," Moore said.
She also said while the cost of gasoline has dropped as of late, it is expected to rise again.
"Things are supposed to change, which would make the cost of living rates go up," she said.
Police Jury president Walt Caldwell added, "The cost of gasoline has gone down dramatically, and I think gas prices will stay lower than what we think."
"The issue that I have is when I go to the supermarket to buy a gallon of milk, or anything along those lines, those prices have gone up and they haven't come down," Caldwell continued. "The bottom line is: I don't think our employees should be punished because the prices of things have gone up. But, at the same time we should be sensitive to people in our community who have either lost their jobs, or have seen their pay severely cut."
He said while the police jury traditionally gives an annual 2 ½ percent increase, the cost of living has gone up more than 2 ½ percent over the past several years.
"I don't see this as an award," Caldwell said. "I see it as survival for the people who work for us."
"I've seen those prices rise and I can tell you it costs more today than it did two years ago," he continued. "It's not fair to look at those guys and say, 'You all don't deserve a decent increase to cover the cost of living.' But we don't need to spend all of our money on raises, and have to cut back on employees next year because we gave too much money this year."