Council members to vote on pay raise

Athens City Council members make more money than those in the cities of Oxford, Bowling Green and Kent, but a proposed ordinance would increase their salaries by another $75 to $90 each year.

Two weeks after Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht told council members that the city would have a surplus of about $3 million as the planning stages of the 2013 budget began, council members proposed an ordinance that would give a pay increase to members in office on Jan. 1, 2014.

Council members currently make $7,462 a year, with the exception of Council President Jim Sands, who makes $9,282.

The proposed pay increase would take effect after the November 2013 election so that, in theory, council members aren’t directly giving themselves a raise, said Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward.

If the ordinance that would give council members a raise were passed, it would put an end to a three-year pay freeze for those who hold the office.

“Being a council member is a paid position; it is not volunteer work,” Risner said. “Since the budget is in better shape, it’s something we should do.”

If there were no surplus and it appeared the city were in serious financial trouble, council would have continued the freeze, Risner said.

But Risner said the proposed increase was “pretty nominal” — at least for the first few years. He said over time, the pay increase will make the office a more attractive job position for citizens to seek out, and that pay increase every year is a “worthwhile investment.”

Six council members are in support of the pay increase ordinance, with Councilman Elahu Gosney, D-At Large, opting to keep the pay freeze in effect, said Council President Jim Sands, who also supports the ordinance.

“It’s not an amount that any of us are going to think much about. We don’t want to make a significant impact on the city finances,” Sands said. “We’re discussing all the time our employees’ increases, and it maybe seems a little strange for us not to take anything.”

In addition to their salaries, council members get certain perks and benefits.
As employees of the city, 10 to 24 percent of the council members’ salaries are paid into the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, said Claudia Reagan, the city’s human resource director. Members are not awarded their retirement benefit once they stop working — they have to apply through the retirement system.

When on official city business, council members may park for free at the garage on Washington Street, but the city doesn’t keep track of how much it costs to continue the practice, Reagan said.

The standard cost at the garage is 25 cents per half-hour except on Sundays and holidays.

Council members also receive a life insurance benefit of $25,000, which begins the day employment starts and ends on the employee’s last day of employment, Reagan said.

If a pay raise took effect, Reagan said those benefits would be unchanged.
Council members deserve a raise to reflect inflation, said Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, who added that council members have had the same salary since they voted to freeze their wages in 2009.

“At the time, we were worried about some grave fiscal issues, and it made complete sense,” Butler said at a public hearing last month. “So I see merit in a new one percent raise in the future because of the (increased) cost of living.”

Risner said he doesn’t know what he’ll do with the extra money if he were to decide to run and be re-elected, but did say he’d be worth the extra cost.

“Each city has to decide what it likes and how it treats its council members,” he said. “Are council members worth an extra $75 a year? Yeah, I think we are.”

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