HAHNVILLE - A cost-of-living increase and other salary hikes totalling $1 million are flowing to St. Charles Parish employees as part of a $90 million budget for 2007 that includes $20 million for west bank levee improvements to protect residents from flooding in a big hurricane like Katrina.
The levee work stands to benefit all parishioners either directly or indirectly. And even though the particulars of the plan have been vigorously and even, at times, hotly debated, Council members agreed in a 5-1 vote, with three members absent - and Barry Minnich voting against - to approve the work as budgeted.
The pay hike is, as you might imagine, welcome news for the parish's 350 employees. Each stands to receive a 3.5 percent cost-of-living hike from the $700,000 "pie" Council set aside in the budget.
An additional $300,000 will be divvied up by Parish President Albert Laque, who told the Herald-Guide in a telephone interview that he will either dole it out in the form of merit raises or as a one-time "salary adjustment" after Jan. 1.
"Iím working with our financial director, Lorrie Toups to see whatís the best we can do for the employees," he says, noting that merit raises, which are recommended by supervisors, "are not always a fair way" of rewarding employees, at least not across the board.
"I want to come up with a system that is fair to everyone," Laque explains. A salary adjustment would benefit everyone, although those increases don't acknowledge superior peformance.
The sum of all salaries for the parish's 350 employees is $19,767,849. Based on that figure, the 3.5 percent cost-of-living increases will total $700,000.
Custodians at the low end of the parish's pay scale will receive about 23-cents per hour for cost-of-living based on their $6.67 hourly salary.
The parish's best-paid employee - financial director Lorrie Toups - will receive $3,400 and change per year based on her $98,000 salary.
Laque will receive $2,880 and change annually based on his salary, which is $82,500 per year.
The parish president - known widely as a kind and generous man - says he isn't sure whether he will give employees merit raises or salary adjustments for 2007. He said he will decide by the beginning of the year.
Last January, faced with the same decision for 2006, Laque gave a salary adjustment.