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No Solon council support for minimum wage increase

Council members, business reps split with county on hike

SOLON– Count Solon out.
Not a single public speaker at the Sept. 2 Solon City Council meeting supported adopting Johnson County’s proposal for an increased minimum wage.
They all spoke against it.
The mayor, all five council members and four Solon business representatives expressed their concern regarding the ordinance, which is scheduled for a third and final reading before the Johnson County Supervisors Thursday, Sept. 10.
The supervisors have proposed increasing the minimum wage within Johnson County to $8.20 per hour by Nov. 1, with an additional jump to $9.15 by May 1, 2016, and another increase to $10.10 by January 1, 2017.
Beginning July 1, 2018, the wage would increase each year by an amount corresponding to the federally reported Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The current minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25 per hour.
Johnson county cities, including Solon, would have legal authority to pass their own minimum wage ordinance, as long as it does not go lower than the state’s.
And if the discussions at the council meeting were any indication, Solon is not interested in hitching up its wagons with the supervisors.
The issue was on the agenda, for discussion only, with Mayor Steve Stange asking for the opinions of each council member and opening the floor to public comments.
In general, speakers felt the county proposal was moved too quickly and went too far.
“I think you put yourself at a disadvantage,” said council member Dale Snipes during the survey of council members. “I think the minimum wage hike would hurt retailers. Retail works on a really slim margin to start with.”
Snipes said he would support a statewide increase.
“The county has put itself at a disadvantage by being the lone wolf on this,” he added.
Council member Steve Duncan agreed with Snipes’ belief the change should be made statewide, and questioned how the implementation of the ordinance would play out, noting that the county’s largest employers are seeking to be exempted.
“We’ve got to represent the businesses we’re trying to grow, in this community, and right now, it’s our retail businesses,” he said, noting restaurants are currently having trouble finding help.
Council member Casey Grover was in the same boat.
Grover speculated Solon’s smallest businesses would be impacted the most by the change.
“It’s not supposed to be a living wage; it’s the minimum wage, it’s the minimum standard of our society for kids to go out and have some pocket money, that sort of stuff,” Grover said.
Council member Mark Krall had a slightly different perspective, saying he feared minimum earnings would quickly approach the entry level for some skilled trades.
“I don’t feel it’s right to be putting part time jobs that close with the skilled labor trades,” Krall noted.
Council member Mark Prentice echoed the earlier sentiments and wondered what steps the city will need to take one way or the other.
“Their (the county’s) timeline looks pretty aggressive, coming up pretty quickly. Do we have to have something enacted prior to Nov. 1?” Prentice asked. “If we don’t make that deadline, how does that all work out?”
Mayor Stange, wrapping up the council discussion, said he understood arguments for and against.
“If someone’s trying to make a living off of that, you can’t very easily have that wage and live in Solon,” Stange said.
“I just don’t think this is a city decision. I think it needs to be coming from the state or federal,” he said, adding the city should lobby the state and federal levels of government if it wants an increase.
Stange said he contacted two of the city’s largest employers– the school district and the Solon Retirement Village– and was told the impact would be minimal.
But that was not the view of the business representatives who attended the meeting.
Those speakers were concerned with the open-ended nature of the county ordinance and the impact it would have on part-time employees.
Curt Phillips, representing the Solon American Legion, shared his analysis of the county ordinance.
“There’s two things the American Legion here in Solon is going to have to do,” he said. “The first thing we’re going to have to do is let go about a third of our work force.”
The second, he said, is raise prices. It wouldn’t be a disadvantage for the Legion because everyone’s prices would go up, but the result would be driving up the cost for people coming to town, in turn discouraging them from doing so.
“They’re just not going to come to town,” he predicted. “And when they don’t come to town to buy a burger, or they don’t come to town to buy a pizza, they’re not going to come to town and fill their car with gas, they’re not going to come to town to buy groceries, they’re not going to come to town for a lot of different reasons.”
By 2019, he said, the impact would be about $52,000.
“Where am I going to get that $52,000 at?” he asked, predicting it would likely curtail the Legion’s ability to give back to the community.
“This is a bad deal for the community,” he said. “And if it goes forward, we’re all going to lose.”
Sam Lensing, of Sam’s Main Street Market, brought up another domino effect of the augmented wage structure.
“If you are forced to raise your minimum wage, and yet you have long term employees working for you,” Lensing said, “you just can’t afford to bump everybody’s wages up.”
After listening to the comments, Stange directed City Attorney Jim Martinek to review the proposed county law and research the city’s options and responsibilities.
Given the unanimous nature of the opinions, Stange also asked for the ability to condense the readings of any city minimum wage ordinance into a single meeting. He indicated the issue would be back on the agenda for the council’s next meeting Sept. 16.