BUCKHANNON — Pay increases for City officials have been a topic of discussion over several recent meetings. This issue has been brought up for consideration due to the nature of some positions that require a significantly increased amount of public service obligations and inconsistencies with current salaries.
Last Thursday evening’s Buckhannon City Council meeting initiated the first reading of an ordinance that would allow an increase to the City Recorder’s salary from $9,000 to $15,600. Under Ordinance No. 440, the City Recorder’s salary has not been adjusted for nearly 16 years, and the last time the issue was addressed was on April 12, 2004 under Ordinance No. 310. Compensation paid to the City Recorder would come in the amount of $500 from the city’s general fund and $200 from each of the four city boards – water, sanitary, waste and the Consolidated Public Works.
The purpose of the changes made to increase salary, as stated in the ordinance, is that the current salary of the City Recorder is inadequate to compensate for the increased and myriad responsibilities of the position and the time required to effectively discharge the responsibilities of the office. This issue had also been recognized and discussed at the last meeting. It is required by law to hold an intervening election between the adoption of an ordinance to approve a municipal officer’s pay increase and address the date upon which the increase shall take effect, according to the ordinance. The second reading and adoption of the ordinance will be carried out in the next meeting on January 16. If the ordinance is passed, it will take effect 30 days following the second reading.
The ordinance passed its first reading when Councilman Dave Thomas moved to approve the ordinance and Councilwoman Pam Bucklew followed seconding the motion. City Recorder Randy Sanders withheld from the motion and Councilwoman Mary Albaugh was absent from the meeting. “It’s not the people that sit here, it’s the positions. None of us can give ourselves an increase,” Thomas stated. He mentioned the only people who can receive an increase in the next cycle are those whose positions are up for election. “It’s been 16 years since the Council and the Mayor have had an increase,” Thomas said. He emphasized that now is the time to look at it with the Mayor and three City Councilor positions on the ballot for the upcoming May election. Thomas has advocated for examining the salaries of each elected city official in past meetings.
Thomas added that he and Mary Albaugh would not be able to receive an increase, due to their pending office terms and not being on the ballot until 2022. “I think it’s time. If you take a look at the responsibilities that the Council has, and especially the Recorder and the Mayor, it doesn’t make any sense not to give an increase in this next cycle. I’m not asking for anything that would distress the city financially,” Thomas said.
As for City Council members, Thomas said they each receive $400 a month or $4,800 a year. Thomas also mentioned that City Council meets more than just twice, among other meetings they must attend, and especially during the budgeting process.
“None of us do it for the money, but I do think there ought to be a process that makes sense,” Thomas said. The Mayor currently receives $20,000 a year and Thomas recommended raising that to $30,000. The Mayor’s position is on the ballot for the election in May. In the previous meeting, McCauley stated that he would not accept any salary increases. “David, you said you did not want to accept that, but that’s not you, it’s the position,” Thomas asserted. He mentioned that all of the Councilors donate to the city on top of their duties, and also give back some with the pay they receive. “We are all trying to do things to make our city better,” Thomas said. “I would give some of that back. I think all of us do that.”
Thomas also recognized that it can be embarrassing sometimes, that they have to make the decision as part of the City Council and make a recommendation that a council person gets an increase. Often times, he said it is misreported and can be easily misunderstood regarding the process in which a municipality regulates their finances, especially through the eyes of social media.
McCauley agreed to the recommendation Councilor Pam Bucklew made, as she suggested that since Thomas and Albaugh would not be eligible for any increases until after the 2022 election, that they serve on the committee with the city’s Director of Finance and Administration Amby Jenkins, to which they would report back to council. However, both McCauley and Councilor CJ Rylands voted against the formation of the committee. “There’s a difference between public service and public employment. I believe this position at council is an at-will public service, not employment. If you’re compelled to serve the community, do so without expectations of payment,” Rylands stated. He mentioned he was not in support of the pay increases of the other council members. “I think you should be compelled by trying to do something bigger than yourself and making decisions that are truly to be in the best interest of the community,” Rylands said.
Councilman Robbie Skinner added that he couldn’t have said it any better than Rylands. The motion was made by Bucklew to form the committee, with Skinner seconding the motion, but only voting for discussion. The motion passed with a margin of 4-2, having Thomas, Bucklew, Skinner and Sanders voting “yes”, and Rylands and McCauley voting “no”.
In closing remarks from Sanders, he mentioned that he never asked for a raise and wouldn’t receive one unless elected for another term. “It’s been a learning experience. Being involved in all the different boards and all the different activities of the city has really opened my eyes as to what it is we do to better the lives of the other members of the community. For the new City Recorder, and I do intend to run, but whoever it is, I hope they will dedicate themselves to being a professional business-type person. Take every opportunity to give back to the community above and beyond the means that is required in that position,” Sanders stated. “I wish every citizen could meet every employee of the city,” he added.
Buckhannon City Council will meet again on January 16, 2020.