Salem Council overturns mayor’s veto of raises

Increase would have amounted to over 30 percent for council members in 2020

SALEM–City council members voted 6-0 Tuesday to overturn Mayor John Berlin’s line item veto of what he said constitutes a nearly 36 percent increase to their wages in 2020.

“This is not a raise for ourselves. We want to get the best candidates in here that we can,” Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey said.

Dickey made the motion to overturn in response to a Dec. 28 letter sent by the mayor to council members regarding his decision. Ohio Revised Code gives the mayor the right to veto an entire ordinance or just a portion, but also gives council the right to overturn the veto.

Council members last had their wage increased in 2007 and prior to that, Dickey said council wages were increased each year. To attract good candidates for council, she said the wage must be increased.

The wage increase had been part of the changes to the wage ordinance which council approved at the last meeting of the year before the holidays. The Finance Committee made the recommendation to increase council pay to $6,000 per year, the same as what the council clerk makes. Council members currently make $4,553 per year. The actual increases comes to about 32 percent, but Berlin was taking into consideration the reduction in duties from not having to do their own committee minutes.

When the wage increase was discussed, Berlin made a point of saying the council clerk’s wages would not have been increased in early 2017 either without the addition of duties to prepare the minutes of all council committee meetings.

In his veto letter, Berlin pointed out that council had decreased their own duties by giving the clerk added responsibilities.

“The wage for city councilmen should be given more consideration, taking into account the 2011 PERS wage adjustments given to other elected officials, the last date council wages were increased, and the decreased workload of having committee minutes done by the council clerk,” he wrote.

“I just couldn’t in good conscience sign an ordinance that had a 36 percent increase,” he said during the meeting.

After the meeting, he indicated he had no problem with council wages being increased, but thought those factors he wrote about should have been taken into account. He had a problem with the amount of the increase, not the increase itself.

He recalled that when employees, including city council members, started paying a portion of their retirement several years ago, previous council members decided to forego raises for themselves while giving raises to employees to offset the retirement contribution.

He said he would have been happy to work with the Finance Committee to look at an appropriate increase based on what happened with the retirement contribution and other factors mentioned.

He also mentioned that part-time employees of the city have been ignored for some time regarding wage increases.

Councilman Geoff Goll said that people need to keep in mind that the increase in pay doesn’t start until Jan. 1, 2020 and does not affect anyone in the room, unless they run again and are re-elected.

Due to a law against in-term raises, none of the current council members, including the new ones, will benefit from the wage increase. People with the responsibility of the health and welfare of city residents and watching over millions of dollars in taxpayer money “should be compensated accordingly,” Goll said.

During her argument for the wage increase, Dickey said she checked with other cities to see what they receive and some were higher, but Berlin said she also should have looked at what those cities have for an income tax rate. Those other cities may have more money available due to higher income tax rates.

In other business, council approved the ordinance dealing with illicit storm water discharges and connections after a third reading. The new law prohibits discharges of illegal substances into the storm water system and illegal connections to the system and outlines penalties for violations, including fines and jail time.

No committee meetings were announced, although Dickey said she’ll be scheduling a Rules & Ordinances Committee meeting by the end of the month.

Finance Committee Chairman Councilman Andrew Null said he’ll be scheduling a meeting regarding the carryover. City Auditor Betty Brothers suggested appropriating $192,684 to capital improvements, which is the difference between last year’s carryover of $1,682,167 and this year’s carryover of $1,874,851.

Goll questioned the idea, saying he thought they had decided at a previous committee meeting to change the percentage on the tax split to put more money in capital that way.

The next council meeting is 7 p.m. Jan. 16.