Lawmakers continue 2018 budget discussion

SALEM — Continued discussion over the 2018 general fund budget touched on a number of areas, including physical agility tests for police and fire personnel, adding a full-time position to the streets department, having K-9 expenses go through the city, looking at how the law director’s clerk is paid and increasing council wages.

City Council’s Finance Committee didn’t take action on all the items, pushing the law director’s clerk pay to a future meeting and inviting Law Director Brooke Zellers to attend, asking city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst to attend regarding additional street department personnel and asking city Auditor Betty Brothers to work up scenarios on both.

She was also asked to look at a way to have a fund similar to the Municipal Events fund for the K-9 expenses for more transparency.

The committee also took action on several items, agreeing to increase the donation to the Salem Memorial Building from $7,500 to $10,000 in the budget and agreeing to create a line item in the budget of $1,000 each for both the police and fire departments for physical agility tests if that’s a move that’s made.

Councilman Geoff Goll made a suggestion about having all fire and police submit to physical agility tests every three years as a means to ensure safety and fitness for duty. He prefaced the idea with the fact that the maximum age for a new firefighter was lowered over safety concerns for ability to do the job later on. He said he’s submitted a request to have the Traffic & Safety Committee look at the situation, talk to the chiefs and talk to the unions, but wanted to make sure the money was included in the budget now. Mayor John Berlin explained that both departments employ a service that provides them with best practices for policies and procedures and there’s already a section related to fitness for duty that the chiefs may employ to request someone be tested for fitness for duty.

The committee agreed to forward to city council for consideration a change in the wage ordinance to increase council pay to equal what the council clerk makes, which is $6,000 per year. Currently, council makes less than the clerk and council members haven’t seen a wage increase for 10 years, unlike other employees of the city. Berlin pointed out the clerk would not have seen a wage increase either if the pay had not been increased earlier this year as payment for additional duties related to minutes of committee meetings.

Due to a law against in-term raises, none of the current council members or the ones just elected will benefit from the wage increase if council approves it.

For the discussion regarding the law director’s clerk and the street department position, Goll requested eliminating the 29-hour salary pay for the law director’s clerk and just making the pay $12.50 per hour. Councilman Brian Whitehill, who chairs the committee, questioned if the clerk was still paid if council wasn’t active, such as when they recessed last August. According to Brothers, the clerk is paid the same amount 52 weeks per year. Berlin noted it’s no different than council getting paid when they don’t meet, suggesting the pay could be monthly, with Whitehill agreeing with a rolling average since the workload changes from month to month. Both he and the mayor said the law director should be included in the discussion, similar to having Kenst part of the discussion regarding a street department employee.

Goll explained his reasoning for adding a full-time streets position by pointing out that residents have already been told there will be no leaf pickup in the spring due to manpower and there’s apparently going to be an increase in the income tax receipts this year. Berlin said they have people calling in the summer about picking up their leaves and what they’re trying to do is have a set period for leaf pickup. He said many trash companies allow for leaves.

Whitehill questioned putting on another full-time person just to take care of one problem. Goll said he just used that as an example.

In another matter, Councilman Clyde Brown, who attended the meeting, questioned previous comments from Berlin about $1 million for concrete streets when his Streets, Alleys & Sidewalks Committee had not given approval, prompting Berlin to say he was getting mixed signals because he was told previously by the Streets, Alleys & Sidewalks Committee to concentrate on concrete streets. Whitehill said the Finance Committee was talking about how much money to spend on capital improvements as part of the budget, not what streets were being done. He said he didn’t want to caught in the middle of “this thing” between the Streets committee and the administration.

Brown has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss the concrete streets plan and his request for a list of alleys to be paved next year.

In other business, the committee agreed to forward to council an ordinance for a Tax Increment Finance Zone agreement with Early Bird Learning Center on North Cunningham Road. Per the agreement, a portion of the taxes paid by the business will be repurposed to pay for the sewer line extension done by the city. A question over an income tax employee going from seasonal to part-time was tabled until the new city treasurer takes office and can look at the situation.

Another Finance Committee meeting is planned for Nov. 28.