Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio took aim at recent claims by city management to have cut $108 million in employee expenses, saying that when averaged out, it amounts to only a trifle.

DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee Foothills, pointed to figures recently released by the city's Budget and Research Department that indicate the average total compensation package for city employees shrank from $97,707 last fiscal year to $97,063 this year, a difference of $644 per employee.

"That's less than 1 percent. That is not a sacrifice," DiCiccio said. "That's an embarrassment to the city."

Ed Zuercher, an assistant Phoenix city manager, said those figures are a total of all city employee expenses, including salaries, benefits, pensions, payroll taxes, uniform allowances and others. Staff costs have shrunk from a total of $1.526 billion last fiscal year to $1.418 billion this year, a difference of about $108 million, he said.

"The reality is, the cost of any employee is more than what they make," Zuercher said. "It's all those things that go into hiring an employee."

The city has eliminated hundreds of positions through attrition, implemented a 3.2 percent wage reduction - totaling $46.9 million a year for two years - for line employees and a 6.9 percent reduction - $5.3 million a year for two years - for executives and middle managers, and by instituting wage freezes and furloughs, he said.

Total city employment has decreased from a peak of 16,956 in 2008 to about 14,600 this year, Zuercher said. The average wage of the city's 7,500 field and clerical staff is about $43,000, he said.

"This year, we have fewer employees. We've cut salaries and we've cut benefits," Zuercher said.

But DiCiccio said the cuts don't go far enough. He accused management of attempting to shift up to 300 employees from various city departments into the Water Services Department, and then floating a proposed 7 percent water rate increase to cover the department's added expenses. Residents are being burdened with city fee increases such as that one and the recent 2 percent food tax hike, he said.

"The city talks about sacrifices, but they don't do any sacrificing," DiCiccio said. "The public is making the real sacrifice."

A City Council meeting on raising the water rates is scheduled for 3 p.m. Jan. 19 in City Council Chambers, 200 W. Jefferson St., in downtown Phoenix.

If approved, the new water rate - which is expected to add an additional $2.21 each month to the typical single-family residential customer's bill of $56.25 - would take effect in March.

A recent water department report indicates the rate hikes are needed for such things as repaying the cost of a $200 million upgrade at water treatment plants to comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 2012, covering $15 million a year in expenses to operate a mandated enhanced filtration system, building a water storage reservoir for fire protection and improved water pressure, and replacing 80-year-old water lines and rehabilitating substandard sewer lines

Next year's proposed 7 percent water rate increase is smaller than last year's 9 percent increase, officials have said. Wastewater rates, which went up 4.5 percent last year, are not expected to rise this year.

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