In do-over, city council raises its own pay

Columbus City Council members will receive 2 percent raises in 2018, reversing a decision two weeks ago to not give themselves a salary increase.

City leaders voted 6-1 on Tuesday to an amended ordinance to give all elected officials raises, which City Councilwoman Laurie Booher opposed. The council had initially agreed Sept. 5 to provide a 2 percent increase to Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer, but not themselves after City Councilman Tim Shuffett said at the time he wanted to see the results of a city compensation study before voting on raises.

The Sept. 5 meeting led to a 5-2 vote, with councilmen Frank Jerome and Frank Miller voting against Shuffett’s proposal.

However, Councilman Tom Dell proposed an amended ordinance Tuesday to allow council members to receive a salary increase along with Lienhoop and Welmer. Dell argued that since city employees will receive 2 percent raises next year, the council should as well.

Shuffett was among those who voted in favor of Dell’s proposal in an effort to provide salary bumps to Lienhoop and Wellmer, adding that he still preferred to wait to provide raises to council members until the results from the city’s compensation study could be finalized.

Council members unanimously voted to give 450 city employees 2 percent raises in 2018 during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think we should do our due diligence to allow (ourselves) the same, what the employees are getting,” Dell said.

That sentiment was shared by fellow councilman Frank Jerome, who said the salary bump should be equal across the board.

“It seems silly that it’s not even for all people,” Jerome said.

Booher said she wanted to see numbers from the in-process city compensation study before acting on the matter. That study is expected to be completed by December, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development.

Ferdon said once the results of the study come back, the city intends to come up with an implementation plan early next year. She said the city anticipates any implementation would be phased in over several years.

“The goal is to have good solid data that we can present and justify,” Ferdon said.

Resident David Jones was critical of the salary study process, suggesting that one or two unbiased voices should be looking at the data.

“There’s no outside voice not connected to this committee,” Jones said.

Jones also said the appearance of council members voting to give themselves raises sends the wrong message.

“There’s an overriding appearance of why government isn’t trustworthy,” Jones said. “I hope you can see the distaste for how this raise might be (seen).”

A second resident, Glen Petrie, contended that the additional cost of employee raises born by taxpayers would be especially difficult on individuals with fixed incomes.

The 2 percent raises for 450 city employees, Lienhoop, Welmer and council members will cost the city $360,000, said Jamie Brinegar, director of finance for the city.

Payroll is just one aspect of the city’s 2018 budget, however, and total expenses and revenues — and tax rates — have not been determined yet.

City employees received a 1.5 percent raise during the 2017 budget year, after being granted 2 percent raises for three straight years starting in 2014. City workers received 3 percent raises in 2012 and 2013.

Dell drew scrutiny after the meeting for distributing Payday candy bars to fellow council members after the council meeting.

Jones called such a move irresponsible, especially coming right after the council voted on salary increases.

“It’s completely inappropriate,” Jones said.

Dell said after the meeting that it was intended to be a joke and would have been done regardless of the vote’s outcome.

List of current, new salaries for elected officials

Mayor Jim Lienhoop

2017 salary: $91,687

2018 salary: $93,521

Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer

2017 salary: $76,033

2018 salary: $77,554

City council members

2017 salary: $7,668

2018 salary: $7,822

Source: City of Columbus

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com