August 7, 2014 10:54:03 AM
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith has given himself a $10,000 pay raise.
During a budget meeting for the upcoming fiscal year, Smith broke a 3-3 city council tie and gave himself the raise. The raise will go into effect when the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 -- provided the city council approves the final version of the budget in September. The raise would push Smith's salary to $88,797, an increase of 12.6 percent.
The action followed lengthy discussion about how the city will likely need to use at least $500,000 from its reserve account to balance next year's budget. An alternative solution would be to raise millage or cut jobs to make up for the shortfall caused by the dropping value of a city mill.
A declining mill value indicates a reduction of the total amount of property taxes collected from city residents and businesses.
It also followed a discussion about investigating the privatization of the city's public works department. A vote on the matter also tied 3-3 with Smith opposing the study.
After that vote took place, councilman Gene Taylor said discussion had been held on a $10,000 raise for the mayor and said he'd like for chief operations officer David Armstrong and chief financial officer Milton Rawle to add that to the next revised version of the budget. Taylor asked Smith that if he made a motion for the raise if Smith would oppose it. Smith said he would not.
Taylor's motion got a second from councilman Marty Turner before going to a vote. After councilman Charlie Box called the motion "crazy" in light of the previous discussion on budget constraints, Councilman Joseph Mickens cast the only other vote in support of Taylor's motion. Box, Kabir Karriem and Bill Gavin opposed it.
After the meeting, Taylor declined to elaborate on the merits of requesting the raise.
"I'm not going to discuss that because it is personnel," Taylor said. "This was discussed prior to (the meeting). That's all I'm going to say on that. It's a suggested budget right now. There's nothing finalized yet."
After the meeting, Smith said voting to increase his compensation in the event of a tie-breaker is allowed by law and not an ethics violation.
"Regardless of what people may say, I bust my butt every day up here, sun up to sun down," Smith said. "It came to a 3-3 vote and I think I deserve a raise. I hate it came to a 3-3, but I think I deserve a raise. Some people will say, 'You ran for office. You knew what the salary was, so why would you accept the raise?'"
Smith noted that the city didn't have the option to dip into reserves when he became the mayor in 2006 and credited the work of previous boards in working to improve the city's financial standing since then.
"Is $10,000 going to kill the city?" Smith said. "Are the other raises going to kill the city? If you've got a deficit, you have a deficit. When I first became mayor, we were robbing Peter to pay Paul. We didn't even have borrowing capacity. Through conservative spending and being frugal, that's how we got at a plus. We didn't get where we were overnight.
"People are going to say what they want to say regardless," he added. "It is what is and we just have to move on."
Box said after the meeting that the public should know Smith voted to give himself the raise.
"I cannot believe after all of this and facing a $600,000 shortfall that we're going to have to balance out of our reserve that they brought up at the last minute a $10,000 raise for the mayor and he broke the tie," Box said. "That just floored me. I couldn't really believe that was happening when it took place like that at the last minute. Obviously, it was planned. I'm absolutely sick of it."
Karriem added that he believed the mayor's salary would have been worth considering if the short and long term budget outlook had been more positive.
"After the report we heard as far as the dire situation of the city unless some things change, I don't think the motion that was given to give the mayor a raise was in order," Karriem said. "Where I believe the position deserves a raise, I don't believe that it was one that should have been given at this particular time. We've got some other things we need to address, and that was the reason I didn't vote for it."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
1. Murder, arson trial begins for Lowndes teen COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Shifting to local: Coffee shop rebrands after getting new owner COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY