Some City Council members believe they must fix the government’s salary imbalance they see for next year.

Some members believe the ideas to change that are sketchy and hasty.

Two members, Donnie Blevins and Jack Messer, aren’t expected to be able to attend tonight’s vote.

If a majority of them can’t approve a 2007 budget by Sept. 30, the city could lose more than half a million in usable revenue every year.

Any city that doesn’t approve a budget by the state’s deadline automatically reverts to using the previous year’s budget, Controller Kay Garry said at Wednesday night’s budget workshop. It also forfeits the additional spending that increasing tax revenue would afford it, about $546,000 in New Albany’s case.

As the council suspended its work session until 6 p.m. tonight, Councilman Dan Coffey remarked, “If we don’t fix these salaries, we’re not going to pass this budget.”

Councilman Mark Seabrook asked, “What, do you already have a consortium?”

Coffey told Seabrook he didn’t believe the budget had enough votes. Seabrook shrugged, turned to Councilwoman Beverly Crump and told her he might as well skip Thursday’s meeting since “the outcome has already been decided.”

Coffey and Seabrook, who sit directly opposite from each other, were following opposite strategies for budget negotiations, too.

Many non-union government salaries are too low and police and fire salaries too high for the city to afford, Coffey said.

He wanted that discrepancy and his plan for non-union longevity pay addressed before the final budget vote because traditionally, he said, “we never address it later.”

County non-union employees have received longevity pay for years, Coffey said, and “I don’t think the County Council’s any smarter than the City Council. At least, I hope not.”

Seabrook said the half-million dollars was “the big picture” and that last-minute changes would endanger that. Any discussion of longevity pay should have begun weeks ago for it to have a chance to be carefully considered, the councilman added.

“I don’t think you’re going to solve it in 10 days,” Seabrook said.

Councilman Steve Price emphasized the imbalance Coffey mentioned, but Crump pointed out that not all jobs are created equal: “Would you want to send the City Controller out ... if someone’s breaking into your home?”

“Everybody’s job is dangerous,” Councilman Larry Kochert chimed in.

Rookie firefighters and police officers make about $28,000, which climbs to about $42,000 in their second year, according to the proposed budget. It’s expected about 16 rookies will be needed next year.

Many non-union government employees — some new and some longtime workers — make between $20,000 and $35,000.

Council President Jeff Gahan suggested creating committees to discuss salary issues, including Kochert’s proposals of a larger pay increase for sewer billing director Kelly Welsh and a pay cut for Building Commissioner Ron Hartman.

Coffey said after the meeting that he believed a council consensus will be reached in time.

Kochert agreed that there’s work left to do.

“It needs five votes, and I’m not sure they’re there,” Kochert said. As far as the potential to lose $546,000 in spending, “I sure don’t want to see that happen.”

Though Wednesday’s meeting yielded few results, it produced a reminder of how mercurial New Albany politics can be.

Several minutes after Kochert and Mayor James Garner bickered early over Kochert’s criticism of Hartman, the council’s conversation turned to earlier this decade when no employees received raises. Elected officials experienced that, too, someone said.

“I tried to get take-home cars and I couldn’t,” Kochert said wryly as colleagues laughed at the reference to a hot-button issue for New Albany.

Without missing a beat, Garner shot back with a grin, “We’ve got a Lumina for you, but it doesn’t have any wheels on it. You don’t need keys, it just takes a screwdriver.”

SO YOU KNOW

New Albany City Council meetings today in Room 331 of City-County Building:

• Budget workshop, 6 p.m.

• Regular meeting, 7:30 p.m.

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