Two weeks after raising water rates 13.5%, the City Council approved higher salaries for utility executives of up to 11%, angering some who said now was not the time to increase the utility's costs.
Despite opposition Tuesday from residents and Councilman David Gordon, the City Council voted 4 to 1 to approve wage increases for top-level utility officials of between 7% and 11% at the general manager's discretion.
Burbank resident David Peroli said that many rate payers were struggling in a difficult economy, and that many of them likely had not received 11% raises.
"This is being done — let's face it — on the backs of utility rate payers," he said.
Some members of the audience clapped as he returned to his seat, although others — including members of the Burbank Water and Power board — used the meeting to praise the work of General Manager Ron Davis, who was among those slated to receive a raise.
Davis was also congratulated for receiving the American Public Power Assn.'s Donovan Achievement Award for his contributions to the public power industry.
But Gordon said he fervently disagreed with the salary hikes "at this point in time," despite Davis' skills.
"If it was … another time, perhaps we could justify it," he added.
Salaries should be tied to the positions rather than the individuals because individuals can leave, Gordon argued.
But Davis, who recently withdrew from consideration for a job in Austin, Texas, insisted the raises were necessary to retain current employees, help recruit new ones and bring the utility compensation more in line with industry standards.
Councilman Dave Golonski said he realized the timing was "challenging," but argued that the cost of losing top talent could be more expensive in the long run.
"Can you afford to not have people with the skill set and caliber that we need?" he said. "You're going to pay the competitive wage at some point or another; it's just a question of when you recognize that you're not competitive and you need to make your adjustments."
City Manager Mike Flad opted to forgo a 5% raise this year, citing the rough economy and budget challenges.
Davis' current top salary is $217,799.92. Under the new structure, his pay will rise incrementally over the next three years. By 2013, the general manager's top-of-range salary will be $270,566.31.
The assistant general manager's top salary will rise from $178,596.12 to $198,244 — an increase of 11%. Top salary ranges for the chief financial officer and other executives will also rise by 11%.
However, a city memo from the management services department noted that while the salary ranges will change, they may receive a maximum annual salary increase of only 10%, per the city's personnel policies.
The memo added that the general manager would not give the employees more than a 7.5% increase in the current fiscal year to help reduce the financial impact on the city.