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GREENSBORO — The minimum wage for city employees is going up.

The City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to increase minimum wages to $10 an hour for regular and seasonal employees, except for those at the Greensboro Coliseum, and $12 an hour for employees who also receive benefits.

Councilmen Tony Wilkins and Justin Outling voted against the plan, which also sets a goal of raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 by 2020.

Outling said he agrees the minimum wage should be higher but doesn’t believe it benefits the city alone to make the move. Without the state or federal government mandating such a wage increase and without cities that Greensboro competes with doing the same, Outling said, Greensboro would effectively be paying more for the same services other cities get more cheaply.

The wage increase, which estimates say would cost the city $266,514 in the first year, would put the city at a competitive disadvantage, Outling said.

“We are in a real fight for jobs,” he said. “That’s what our community needs — it needs economic development and it needs jobs.”

But other council members said Greensboro needs to be a leader on providing a decent paycheck to those working for minimum wage.

The move would affect about 245 city employees, according to Assistant City Manager Mary Vigue.

Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter said she has spoken to a number of those employees, many of whom have two or three jobs and can barely make ends meet. One city employee to whom she recently spoke works 40 hours a week and depends on food stamps to feed their family, she said.

Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson said she has heard the same stories from hardworking city employees.

“Some of them are living below the poverty line,” Johnson said. “We need to make this right.”

Councilman Jamal Fox, who first began the conversation about a minimum-wage increase for city employees, reminded the council that he once worked in the city’s planning department and in the city manager’s office before running for office.

Fox said he worked alongside employees who had three or four jobs to make ends meet. That’s not good for the employees, and it is not good for the city, he said.

“When you invest in your staff and employees, they invest in you,” he said.

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said the move would be Greensboro leading the way, setting an example for other employers.

“We have to say to businesses coming into the city that we value our employees and we want you to value your employees,” she said.

The issue drew an overflow crowd of more than 200 people to the council chambers, with everyone who spoke to the council supporting the increase.

Congresswoman Alma Adams, who held a rally and news conference to support the increase before the meeting, said it is a moral imperative.

“We need to stop thinking about this whole thing as increasing the minimum wage and thinking about it as helping people provide for their families at a wage they can actually live on,” said Adams (D-12th District). “More than 27 percent of the people in North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District live below the poverty line, and that’s not acceptable. Many of those people live right here in Greensboro.”

The council also voted to support a plan that would raise other city employee wages that have fallen behind the market value for their skills and haven’t sufficiently risen with inflation. It passed 8-1, with Outling dissenting.

He argued that the data did not include total compensation, such as health benefits and retirement plan contributions.Most people take full compensation into account when taking a job, Outling said. Without that information, he said, he couldn’t determine which employees should receive raises based on their market value.

The council’s moves on wages won’t fix all the city’s problems with employee compensation, Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, but it is a good start.

“I think we want to set the bar a little higher,” she said. “This is really just a baby step. This is just the beginning.”

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Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @joekillianNR on Twitter.

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