Champlin made some tough choices to balance its 2009 budget in a tight economy, including combining a few jobs, slightly increasing property taxes and cutting four clerical workers' hours.

The City Council also chose to approve "market adjustment" raises totaling more than $15,000 for eight of the city's highest-paid staff. They are the city administrator, police chief, deputy chief, the computer system manager and four police sergeants.

Some employees and a former council member say it's unfair to give raises to well-paid staff while cutting the work week of lower-earning clerks, all women, by one day. One of the clerks, who has since resigned, claims it shows sex discrimination. The eight who received raises are all men, and each will earn more than $79,000 this year.

City officials denied her allegation and noted the four clerks retained full-time health benefits and no one was laid off. Council members said such adjustment raises are routinely made in its annual budget process for employees whose pay is below that of comparable metro area city jobs. The raises keep talented staff from going elsewhere, they said.

"We are doing what's best for the city and taxpayers," said Mayor Mark Uglem. "We regret we had to take other steps in the other positions."

The positions given a cut in hours were a payroll clerk, an engineering secretary, a utility billing clerk and City Clerk Roberta Carlotti, who had no comment. The four clerks will earn between $19,000 and $56,000 this year.

But payroll clerk Brenda Cunningham, who resigned in January, said she sent a memo about unequal pay treatment to city officials in December after the 2009 budget was adopted.

Cunningham quit because "I personally couldn't handle it anymore." She said "the citizens of Champlin should know that female employees' hours were being cut while top male employees were getting more than the regular cost-of-living raise."

City Administrator Bret Heitkamp noted that police sergeants and community service officers received adjustments last year.

"It's not a gender issue," he said. "Market adjustments apply to everyone: male and female, union and non-union, front line and management."

Heitkamp said when state aid cuts were looming last fall, city department heads were asked to review staff positions and classify them as critical, essential or discretionary. The heads recommended a cut in hours for the four clerks, he said, which the council approved. Three other employees were given broader duties, including some engineering workers, because of the drop in building permit requests.

Scott Swenson, who lost his reelection bid and left the council at year end, said he was the only council member to raise the pay equity issue last fall. "It's not fair that they get an increase when we are cutting staff hours and raising taxes on people," Swenson said. He also was a city public works employee until March when he was fired after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DWI charge.

Council member Greg Payer said the council received an e-mail in early December from Heitkamp recommending that more than $11,000 in adjustments be made to the four managers' salaries. Payer said that amount was half the full market adjustment the council had agreed on by consensus earlier, before state cuts were clear. He said Champlin must pay competitive salaries or lose talented staff to other cities.

Finance Director June Johnston said the raises bring the jobs' pay in line with the average of the maximum salaries for each position in a survey by the League of Minnesota Cities of about a dozen metro area cities with populations from 20,000 to 30,000.

The league's Laura Kushner said many cities refer to their online survey to adjust job salaries every few years.

Asked why the $11,000 in manager raises didn't appear in the city's final budget book, Johnston said the raises were approved late in the year and are noted in records for the council's contingency fund. Using that fund gives the council discretion to change the amounts if conditions warrant, she said.

The budget book lists staff salaries, including a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase. For example, the book lists Heitkamp's salary of $123,083 without his adjustment bonus of nearly $3,700. The other three men received bonuses of between $2,400 and $2,600. Their total approximate salaries for the year, including the raises, are: Police Chief Dave Schwarze, $101,400; Deputy Chief Ty Schmidt, $92,060; and information technology coordinator Todd Beisang, $79,160.

Johnston said the four sergeants settled early enough to have their adjustment bonus of about $1,020 each included in the budget book salaries, which range from $81,720 to $86,480 this year. Their bonuses are spread over their three-year union contract.

Blaine Kalahar has lived a dozen years in Champlin and operates equipment for its public works department. He said as a taxpayer he wonders: "If times are tough and we are cutting four people's hours, than what is the city doing going and spending money giving people a market adjustment? It's like the AIG mess. I don't think that was right."

Schwarze said the adjustments were made under council guidelines and his salary is still below the average of police chiefs in similar size cities. Schwarze said he understands it may appear unfair to get a raise while clerks' hours are cut. He added: "I hope people will look at the individual positions and where they fall compared to other cities."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658