Mayor Ronnie Marks asked the Athens City Council to consider increasing pay for all city employees during the group's meeting Monday.

Marks asked the Council to consider both a cost-of-living adjustment of 3% for all city employees across the board as well as adding $6,000 to the base pay of Athens police officers and firefighters.

Marks said he brought the issue up now so the Council would have time to consider the proposals before heading into budget meetings later this year. That way, if the increases were passed, they would come into effect during the first pay period in October, he said.

“Before COVID-19 hit us, we were talking about some things we needed to do for our employees at mid-term,” he said. “It is now July.”

Marks said a 3% raise for all city employees would come at a cost of $350,000 to the general fund and $280,000 to Athens Utilities. He said the last time a cost-of-living adjustment was made for any city employees was in 2018.

Marks also proposed adding to the base pay of members of Athens Fire & Rescue and Athens Police Department in order to help keep up with salaries offered by other cities and to help retain “some of these good people we have on staff.”

The proposed $6,000 raise would be added to each step of the pay scale.

“We haven't been keeping up for several reasons,” he said. “For one, we have a pay scale that tops out at 11 steps. Huntsville has a pay scale that tops out at 22 steps. Other cities have pay scales that top out even higher than that. When you come off at 11 steps, you are basically freezing your senior employees to no opportunity for a pay raise unless the legislative body gives a cost-of-living raise.”

Marks said the starting base pay for the fire department is $32,355, while starting pay for the city's police department is $35,027.

“Right now, you are $8,000 under the starting salary at the (Limestone County) sheriff's department,” he said. “So you ask, 'Why are you losing people?' Let these guys know we are doing something.”

Marks said the City of Athens is “outstanding” when it comes to revenue. He said normal sales tax revenue is up a little more than 5%, with local big box stores helping to carry the city through this time.

He said online sales tax revenue had increased significantly, with City Clerk Annette Barnes adding revenue stream was up more than 100% from last year.

Marks said the Alabama League of Municipalities successfully campaigned for the state legislature to make collecting local sales tax on online purchases mandatory. 

“When you would order a shirt or something on Amazon.com or somewhere else, the state would get their 2 cents of sales tax, but the local government would never get anything,” he said. “The more people shopped online, the more we lost revenue.”

Marks said the SSUT brought in $32 million in the first year to be split among the state and cities/towns based on population.

He said this year revenue will be more than $400 million, and the City of Athens is taking in on average $64,000 a month in sales tax revenue. Maintaining that average over a 12-month period would net $768,000 in revenue.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of Athens City Council will be Aug. 10. Meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. but are preceded by a work session at 5 p.m.

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