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Could pay cuts, less management help Wichita's budget crunch?

Council member Janet Miller said she normally wouldn’t even consider looking at employees’ salary as a place to save money. But during the budget workshop Tuesday, she said it might be a reasonable alternative to layoffs and cutbacks that leave people without jobs and limit city services.

She asked that city officials examine a .5 percent or 1 percent pay cut as a temporary solution to the projected $13 million deficit the city is facing.  She also focused on the ratio of management to lower ranks.  "Can we spread some of this out on a shorter term basis?” she asked, as council members mulled eliminating as many as 101 positions in City Hall. “Maybe those aren't good ideas."

Her comments generated almost no discussion. The politics of pay can be a touchy subject, particularly in public meetings. But the idea may warrant some talk. For several years, most city employees have enjoyed a 4 percent cost of living raise and a merit-based pay increase of up to 2.5 percent. For many, that means a 6 percent raise each year. Of course, thousands of employees work under union contracts negotiated on a multi-year basis. (You can search for city employee salaries on The Eagle’s database.)

Overtime pay has also been an issue. When The Eagle investigated overtime about a year ago, it found the city was paying more OT than anytime in the past five years. Some employees nearly doubled their salaries. Others out-earned their bosses with OT. At least 71 city workers earned more than $10,000 in overtime in 2007.

Overall, that meant $3.7 million in overtime pay. Officials, particularly in the transit department where bus drivers drew thousands in overtime, said they were working to limit that by hiring people more quickly to fill vacancies. Whether that is working remains to be seen.