January 3, 2013 10:21:20 AM
The Starkville Board of Aldermen approved an increase in salary for the aldermen and mayor Tuesday night in a 6-1 vote. The pay raises will not go into effect until the Oct. 1, 2015, the first day of the fiscal year.
The pay from aldermen will increase from $12,000 to $15,000 while the mayor's salary will jump from $60,000 to $71,500.
The vote came after a presentation by Stennis Institute Associate Director Jeff Markham, who provided data on non-elected city employee salaries in municipalities similar to Starkville throughout the Southeast. Markham's data showed Starkville's average salaries are not competitive. The board voted unanimously to send the salary data to the city's audit and budget committee.
"We do realize there are salary issues for employees, too," Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said. "At the time we made these recommendations, we did not have the Stennis Institutes' information."
In the original motion, the increase in mayor and aldermen salaries were to be implemented Oct. 1 2013. In response to the information collected by Stennis, Sistrunk proposed the changes be adopted at the beginning of fiscal year 2015 instead. According to Sistrunk, this would allow for more time to look at city employee salaries before making permanent changes to elected officials salaries.
"The board recognized that our salaries, along with other employees fall behind averages, and we're trying to take this process forward in order to get everyone salaries that are more in line with other entities in the state," she said.
Sistrunk added that the increases chosen were part of a rounded average, and "maybe even below the average of similar-sized cities in the state." She also said that due to state statute, if the board did not act on the issue immediately, the earliest the salaries could be addressed again would be in 2017.
As the lone dissenting vote, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver questioned why the motion, if not due to take effect until fiscal year 2015, could not be revisited in 2014. He questioned Sistrunk's claim that state statute dictated when salaries could be changed. City attorney Chris Latimer could answer question, but promised to investigate the matter. Carver urged the board to wait until Latimer could make his report to the board.
"I have had city employees call me left and right today, and they are upset about it," Carver said. "If this isn't a time-sensitive issue, which it's not, let's look at the city employees first, and after that we can look at this for (elected officials)."
Wiseman agreed with Carver's sentiments, and said he felt the very last interest that should be considered is the personal compensation received for doing a job he called an "honor and a privilege."
Wiseman said the additional $32,500 needed to raise for the mayor and aldermen could be better used for other purposes
"On its own, it's not a huge proposal, especially in the context of a $16 million budget," Wiseman said. "That is not a great sum of money, but I have been through enough budgeting processes to know how significant $32,500 can be.
"That is the last street that doesn't get paved, the last drainage project that doesn't get done, equipment that doesn't get purchased, or as is most often the case, pay inequities with our employees that are not short enough."
If the motion would have been limited to strictly affect the board of aldermen salaries, Wiseman said he would not have opposed it so harshly because he does not feel it was his prerogative to dictate what board members salaries should be.
But because the motion was not separated and would increase the mayor's salary as well, Wiseman said he would veto the motion. He said he understood the process, and that it was intended to keep current board members from making their own salaries but that he refused to ignore a move he saw as "self-serving."
With elections set for later this year, there is a chance none of the board members, including Wiseman, will be in office when the changes are implemented, but Wiseman said he refused to act like he would not be reelected.
"I can not justify a 19-percent increased pay package for a job that I already hold," Wiseman said. "I fully plan of being here in October 2014 and 2015, and I can't just pretend a pay raise fell into my lap.
"In the event I am not here (as mayor), then whoever is here can deal with that question, either for themselves or the next mayor."
Though Wiseman plans on vetoing the motion, he would have to get at least two more aldermen on his side in order to avoid a mandatory five-vote override, which would be easily attained with the current stance of 6-1.