Council Members Ask City to Consider Higher Starting Wages

By Charis Whalen

Oxford City Council likely will endorse 2019 pay levels for city workers on Tuesday, but that will not likely be the end of discussion about beginning wages for part-timers.

At least two members of council are interested in reviewing the proposed lowest wage of $8.50 an hour for part-time employees. Council Members David Prytherch and Chantel Raghu both have done outside research on the issue, and say more research is needed.

The issue was at the forefront at council’s Oct. 16 meeting, when Raghu asked human resource director Candi Fyffe: “Do we respect the dignity of work?”  

“When we’re talking about job compensation, we look at job responsibilities, education and minimum requirements to do that job and what the actual job is,” Fyffe responded, noting that part-timers with experience make more than $8.50 an hour.

Raghu believes the city should consider increasing the lowest wage for some part-timers to provide something closer to a living wage.

Butler County’s living wage is currently $10.42 an hour for a single adult, according to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The minimum wage in Ohio is $8.30 an hour.

This is not the first time Raghu has brought up wage issues. In a council meeting on April 17, Raghu attempted to shift council’s conversation in the same direction. The issue did not move forward then, also for lack of data.

Raghu, a veterinarian who was elected to Council last November, would like the city to take up the matter now.

“We know $8.50 is not enough to sustain a family,” she said in a follow-up interview. “Heaven forbid we give the people on the lowest end of the totem pole any type of living wage.”

As drafted, the City’s proposed 2019 staffing and payroll roster calls for most city workers to receive a 3 percent cost-of-living raise. That would not, however, apply to the starting pay for part-timers.

The proposal calls for 119 full-time employees, up from 116 at present. The Parks & Recreation Department would get one of the new positions, aquatics program coordinator, to oversee the new Oxford Aquatic Center when it opens in the spring. Additionally, the Police Department would get one new full-time officer and the Service Department would get one more full-time custodian.

The proposals also calls for 132 permanent part-timers, down four positions; and 59 seasonal part-timers, up 10. The additional seasonal workers are needed for the aquatic center.

The draft shows a minimum pay for part-timers at $8.50—but a maximum as high as $43.12 an hour. That’s assigned to a part-time deputy director position in the Service Department.

At the moment, the city has nine part-time positions that start at $8.50 an hour—but only six employees are working at that level.

In the Oct. 16 meeting, Mayor Kate Rousmaniere and Council members Glenn Ellerbe and Edna Southard indicated they would support the 2019 staffing and payroll roster as presented.  Rousmaniere called $8.50 an hour “fair for a starting wage,” and Ellerbe agreed, stating that “you have to have a provision for an unskilled worker.”

Southard, in a separate interview, said her primary concern is the city’s overall budget. But she acknowledged the differences between part-time jobs. “If you have a lifeguard, it’s a more responsible position than somebody who runs a concession stand,” she said. “A lifeguard should get more money than somebody who sells soda pop or wrapped-up snack.” She emphasized that “you cannot decrease somebody’s salary … so it just keeps going up and up and up.”

Prytherch, who also teaches urban and regional planning classes at Miami, said the discussion about living wages may be a first for Oxford City Council.

“I think we’re at the beginnings of the conversation,” he said in an interview. “Everyone needs more information.”

Prytherch said it is unlikely any significant changes can be made now, but the conversation could lead to changes next year for the 2020 city budget. “The City of Oxford is doing pretty well with this,” he said, “but we may need to do better.”

Council is expected to vote on the 2019 draft at its Tuesday meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. in the Oxford Courthouse, 118. W. High St.