September 18, 2013 9:49:36 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Starkville aldermen moved up a pending pay raise for themselves and Mayor Parker Wiseman by a year Tuesday while at the same time codifying a 1.98-mill property tax increase.
The pay raise -- a $3,000 increase to $15,000 annually for aldermen, and an $11,500 raise to $71,500 annually for the mayor -- was scheduled to begin Oct. 1, 2014 by the previous board in January. Wiseman went on to veto the matter earlier this year, but the prior board found enough support to override his action.
Aldermen voted 5-2 Tuesday, with Ward 3 Alderman David Little and Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker opposing, to make the raise effective Oct. 1 of this year. Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins led the motion and was supported by Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn.
The matter began as a consent agenda item -- the board could have enacted it and numerous other housekeeping measures at the same time with little discussion -- but Walker asked that it be removed and addressed during the open session. Both aldermen took exception to the matter that it was placed on the consent agenda last week with little advance knowledge.
Little, while saying he was not completely opposed to the idea of a pay increase, said it was odd timing to move up the increase's start by a year while the board was enacting the city's first substantial property tax increase in the past four years.
Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard said, based on previous board minutes, he felt former aldermen enacted the pay increase to serve as a motivator for incoming representatives to address pay disparity issues which exist between city employees and their peers in other municipalities. It would be improper for the incoming board to receive a pay raise before tending to similar raises for city employees, he said. The city's incoming FY 2014 budget enacts a 3-percent pay increase for most employees.
"It is my feeling that this board has met partial, not full, implementation (of employee pay raises)," he said.
Perkins, the longest-tenured alderman on the board, said pay increases for the city's elected positions have come few and far between in his career and suggested Little and Walker forego their extra wages if truly opposed the new start date.
"If you feel that strongly about being against the raise, you can refuse not to get the raise," he said. "The last time the board received a raise was 2005. These things don't come every other year. I supported it then, and I support it now. I think this is not a bad thing to do."
"Using that logic, if you don't vote for the claims docket each month, how are you going to get a paycheck or pay the city's bills? I don't follow that logic," Little said referring to Perkins' comments after the vote. "We don't do this for the money. If we did, the salary would be a whole lot more than it is. There are a lot of outside demands."
Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn repeatedly reminded the public that the current board did not enact the pay raise, while Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, who was the lone opposition vote against the increase on the previous board, said the city should continue focusing on pay issues.
"I think the time has come, and there's still a lot of work to be done," Carver said of the raise. "I think every year we might need to look at city employee raises, aldermen and mayor included -- things that get us in line with other cities in the South."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch