Council may double retirement benefits

Published 6:43 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The LaGrange City Council discussed doubling monthly retirement benefits for council members during its meeting Tuesday night.

The timing of the discussion was hotly debated, considering longtime council members Norma Tucker and Nick Woodson are set to retire next month. The council voted 4-2 in favor of drafting an ordinance to move forward with updating the benefits, but no vote was held to approve the increase Tuesday night.

Once the ordinance is drafted, the council will review it and hold an official vote. The change would also need to be approved through the Georgia Municipal Association, and it was not clear as of Tuesday if the change would be retroactive.

Council members Willie Edmondson, LeGree McCamey, Woodson and Tucker voted in favor of moving forward with drafting the ordinance, while Tom Gore and Mark Mitchell voted against.

The council’s current retirement benefit is $25 per month, multiplied by years served on the council. The proposal was to raise that benefit to $50 per month, multiplied by years served on the council.

If the change is approved, then Tucker, who has served on the council for 12 years, would receive $7,200 per year in retirement benefits after she reaches the age of 65, and Woodson, who has served on the council for 20 years, would receive $12,000 per year.

“I think it is completely inappropriate for outgoing councilmembers to vote on this issue when you cannot be held accountable to the voters of our city,” Mitchell said.

“That is the position that I hold.”

Tucker brought the proposal forward during the work session Tuesday morning, asking if the council should discuss raising the retirement benefits to $50 or $75.

The discussion centered on $50, and it continued into the council meeting.

“As one of the outgoing members of the council, I’d like to bring forth the suggestion of increasing the retirement benefits,” Tucker said. “I know that we have adjusted quite a bit over the past couple of years, and I’d like to recommend that we increase the retirement benefit to $50 per year of service.”

During an earlier discussion on retirement benefits, the city staff was instructed to compare LaGrange’s retirement benefits to other similarly sized cities, and presented those results during the work session.

“We did the survey, and we looked at other communities near to us in size, and we looked at other elected official’s monthly benefits,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “The average benefit was $38 per month per elected official for retirement. Ours currently is $25, and that is per year of service.”

Several members of the council also questioned whether the council should approve its own retirement increases.

“I understand that there are different sides to this issue with people who would be in favor of it and people who would be opposed to it, and I certainly respect all of you who would be in favor of it, but to this point I don’t think I’ve ever voted for an increase in our salary or our retirement benefits, so on this motion I plan to vote against it,” Gore said.

However, Woodson said that the change has been under consideration for years.

“(Former City Manager) Tom Hall was in favor of that years ago,” Woodson said. “We just never did it.”

It was also noted that the last change to council compensation occurred over a decade ago.

“I know the last change to pay for councilmembers and the mayor took place just before I came into office, and that was for salaries for councilmembers,” Tucker said. “There has been no change to salaries or retirement benefits since I have been here.”

A drafted ordinance will be reviewed by the council following GMA’s approval.

The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 12 at 5:30 p.m.