Raises discussed for mayor, council

Published 6:26 pm Thursday, March 29, 2018

Council salary and benefits were once more up for discussion during Tuesday’s LaGrange City Council retreat.

The City of LaGrange currently pays council members $7,200 annually. The average for cities of comparable size in Georgia is $9,278 a year, according to numbers provided during the retreat. The pay varies widely on each end of the spectrum. According to information provided by the city, Kennesaw pays council members $1,000 annually while Valdosta pays council members $15,500.

“It looks like on average we are a bit below salaries in similar sized cities to us,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “Then, we also looked at benefits in terms of retirement benefits. The city currently has $25  (a month) times the number of years.”

Several council members said they wanted any changes to council salary or benefits to take effect after the next council election. That would be in line with state law and would give some measure of control to voters through reelection. Retirement benefits can be changed with immediate effects and the idea of increasing the benefit from $25 to $35 was suggested.

“It is not for us per se. It is for those that are coming behind us that it is going to impact who are going to need it,” Council member Willie Edmondson said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not going to discuss it anymore, but you know what my point is. I think it needs to go up.”

Edmondson referenced people who he knew would like to run for office but could not afford to leave their jobs for the time required to be a council member.

Council member Jim Arrington asked if there was a way to allow citizens to vote on the proposed raise. Mayor Jim Thornton said that council elections give citizens the opportunity to vote on if they agree with changes or not.

“I think that is the theory behind why it can’t take effect until after reelection is that the people have to choose,” Thornton said. “I think that is the explanation for that state law.”

Several of the council members said giving citizens come control over the raises helped alleviate concerns they had. However, it was unclear if the increase could be staggered to reflect the staggered election years for council members.

“I’m not saying that it would make me vote for it, but if it could be staggered for each person so that anyone who might vote for it could be subject to reelection prior to the implementation for them [that would be better],” Council member Tom Gore said.

The proposed amount for consideration was an increase to $10,000 annually for council members, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2020, after the next city council election. The pay is generally considered a way to offset the expense of time spent on council duties.

“I’ve sat here for the last three years now, and I’ve watched the mayor basically work a full-time job as mayor,” Councilmember Mark Mitchell said.

“I have no reservations whatsoever telling the community that he deserves a raise. I just can’t vote on my own raise.”

Mitchell was hesitant to offer support for a raise for his own position. However, Councilmember Nathan Gaskin argued that the city’s success made a case for the raises.

“The question is do we deserve this?” Gaskin said. “I know me and [Jim Arrington] just got here, but do you guys really deserve this? You’ve got industry coming here. You’ve got the amphitheater. You’ve got budget surplus. For all intents and purposes, you are doing better than what, 70 percent of cities in the state?”

It was also noted that the time commitment will grow as the city grows.

“As the city grows — as we are hoping we are going to grow — we are going to be required to do more things,” Arrington said. “It is going to require more of our time in the future.”

Arrington also had reservations about voting for what could be considered his own raise, but he said he felt more comfortable with citizen approval through reelection.

Thornton confirmed that council meetings had become longer since he first joined the council eight years ago.

A raise for the mayor’s salary of $9,600 was also discussed. The average pay for mayors in the state of Georgia is $13,843. The proposed mayoral salary is $15,000 taking effect on Jan. 1, 2022. The proposal will be discussed more at a future date.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on April 10 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.