(Posted Dec. 16, 2017)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Discussions became heated at the Dec. 7 London city council meeting when resident Doug Pyles expressed opposition to proposed raises for elected and appointed city officials.
At the previous council meeting, council member Dick Minner proposed a 33 percent wage increase for the elected and appointed positions of mayor, law director, auditor, treasurer, council president, council members, council clerk, and board of public utilities members. The last increase was in 2008.
If passed, the raises would go into effect in 2020 and, according to Joe Mosier, safety-service director, cost the city just under $71,000 per year.
Pyles wanted to know how the wages compare to those in comparable cities, how the city would cover the increase in costs, and why the city isn’t considering less of an increase and/or a more gradual approach to increasing the wages.
When Pyles pressed about comparable numbers, Minner responded, “I don’t need such a report, so I don’t have one.”
Joe Russell, council president, later said that city officials are indeed looking at other cities’ wages as council continues to consider the proposed increase.
As for how the city would cover the cost, Minner said, “We’ll come up with the money.”
Mayor Pat Closser, noting that he had wanted to stay out of the discussion, did comment that the cost is small when considered in the context of the city’s overall budget of $16 million a year.
About the proposed one-time bump, council member Brenda Russell said it seems like a large amount because the city is “playing catch-up.”
Pyles said, “It isn’t my fault” as a taxpayer that the city didn’t keep up with gradual increases over the years.
Council members Rex Castle and Trint Hatt both said they think the proposed 33 percent is a stretch, but both think some kind of raise is warranted.
Better pay will attract or keep talented people in the positions, Castle said.
When Pyles asked Castle if he serves on council for the money, Castle responded, “You know better than that.”
Castle also said to Pyles, “Don’t come down hard on us when we’re trying to do what’s right for the city in the long run.”
The proposed increase was on second reading. Council will hold a third reading on the ordinance at its Dec. 21 meeting.
Pyles also took issue with proposed increases in the salary ranges for city department heads, including the safety service director, police chief, police captain, fire chief, recreation director, tax director, street superintendent, water superintendent, sanitation superintendent, utilities director, and administration executive assistant.
If passed, the increases would have the potential to cost the city a maximum of $26,400 per year, according to Mosier.
Castle explained that department heads are not unionized and, as such, do not get automatic increases via contract negotiations.
“Department heads are at (council’s) mercy,” Castle said, regarding when and if their pay ranges increase. About the proposed increases, he added, “We’re not trying to make anyone outlandishly rich.”
Minner noted that when he was London’s fire chief, several fire fighters under his command made more than he did after over-time.
“I’m sure in the fire department, they’ve got fireman making more than the chief does,” he said.
This ordinance also is on second reading. Council will hold a third reading at their next meeting.
In other business, Castle said the finance committee continues to tweak the 2018 budget. Health insurance costs came in lower than expected, the auditor’s office is making changes to its budget to decrease costs, and year-end revenues are higher than previously predicted, all of which will be reflected in an updated budget proposal at the next council meeting. Council must pass the budget before the end of this year.
Castle updated council on the renovation of the Walnut Street property for use as city offices. Asbestos was found in a crawl space, requiring abatement and causing a delay. In the meantime, temporary heaters have been installed. Also, crews are encapsulating the ceilings so that drop ceilings can go in. The next city properties meeting is at 7 p.m. Dec. 27.
Leon Daniels of the London Recovery Project informed council of a plan to bring transitional housing to the region to help people reestablish their lives, whether they’ve come on hard times financially, are veterans, are reintegrating into society after release from prison, or are recovering from substance abuse or mental health disorders.
The idea is to not only provide housing, but also help with job placement, securing a driver’s license, establishing and maintaining a savings account, transportation, medically managed treatment, and other assistance to help people get back on their feet, Daniels said.
Those behind the program are working to spread the word, garner support, raise funds, and find a building.
“We’re looking here and in Union, Delaware and Morrow counties,” Daniels said.
London resident Shirley Litchfield, a regular council meeting attendee, took a few minutes to thank outgoing council members Megan Douglas and Dick Minner for their service. She was especially appreciative of Minner’s many years of service, not only on council but also formerly with the fire department and in other civic capacities.
“I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart,” Litchfield told Minner.