By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 in favor of increasing the mayor’s salary to $71,500 and aldermen salaries to $15,000 at its meeting Tuesday.
The raise will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2014 — the first day of the 2015 fiscal year. The current salary for the mayor is $60,000, while aldermen earn $12,000 a year. The last time the board voted to increase aldermen salaries was 2005.
Originally, the agenda item listed the increase to be implemented on the first day of the 2014 fiscal year, but a modification was made by Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk on the premise that it allows for enough transition time to take place between adjusting city employee salaries from what they are now to figures that are closer to those of peer cities as per a comprehensive survey conducted by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver was the only dissenting vote. Mayor Parker Wiseman said had the measure been split into two — one for the board’s salary and one for the mayor’s — he would not intervene with the board’s decision to raise aldermen salaries. Since the measure also called for an increased salary for the mayor, however, he intends to veto it.
After Stennis Institute Associate Director Jeff Markham made a presentation about the survey, which he said is a collection of data from comparable cities in the southeastern United States to identify the competitiveness of salary employees in Starkville, the board voted unanimously in favor of submitting the raw data collected so far to the city’s budget and audit committee for a thorough review.
Citing state statute, Sistrunk said if the board did not act on adjusting elected official employee salaries at the meeting, the next time they can be addressed is by the board seated in 2017. Carver questioned whether or not it was state statute, and City Attorney Chris Latimer said he would research to determine whether or not it is.
Sistrunk said the city’s budget and audit committee recognized that salaries for elected officials and city employees are falling behind averages and hopes to adjust to get them in line with other entities in the state. Given the information obtained from the Stennis Institute, she suggested moving the date of the increase, “puts us squarely in the middle of a transition plan for the city employees but moves us all along on that path toward something that is more in line with state averages.”
“The numbers we chose were a rounded average,” she added. “I think they’re actually they’re probably a little below the average for similarly sized cities in the state of Mississippi. We do recognize that there are salary issues to be addressed with city employees, too. We’re trying to do these in conjunction with that … At most, I would like to think we can accomplish (adjusting) the city employees’ (salaries) over a three year period in Fiscal Years ‘14, ‘15 and ‘16. This would put the board of aldermen and the mayor squarely in the middle of that transition, assuming it takes three years.”
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said he could support the measure if it took effect at the time Sistrunk suggested.
“I think it’s something that needs to happen just based on the work we do. I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that it needs to be done in line with the employee compensation package and so if what you’re saying is true, then the next board won’t come in and take these raises,” Dumas said. “They’ll wait one full fiscal year … as well as the transition phase to employee raises.”
Wiseman and Carver agreed that the last people to be considered in terms of increased compensation are elected officials.
“I don’t doubt that elected officials as compared to peers are underpaid, just as our employees are. My personal opinion is that we should come last. I believe the positions we have are positions of public trust ... In my opinion, the very last interest we should ever consider is the personal compensation we receive for doing a job that is an honor and a privilege,” Wiseman said. “The total price tag on this proposal is $32,500. In the context of a $16 million budget, that is not a great sum of money, but I have been through enough budgeting processes with the city now to understand how significant $32,500 can be. When you are at the end of a budgeting process, that is the last street that doesn’t get paved; the last drainage project that doesn’t get done; equipment for the fire department or police department that doesn’t get purchased.”
“I recognize that a very worthy case could probably be made as to how we lag that far behind, but the exact same case and then some can be made in respect to most of our employees,” Wiseman continued. “I can’t justify doing something I view as self-serving. I would view with the needs I see in this city a 19 percent increase pay package for a job I hold as something that is self-serving … The justification is this is not for this mayor and this board. We’re going to have an election this summer, and that will be decided then. But I cannot buy that justification when I fully plan on being here in October of 2013 and October of 2014. I can’t with a straight face act like the pay raise that then comes just happened to fall in my lap when I was part of the mayor and board that decided it.
I am the one that is here now. I have every intention of being here when this would be implemented, and I just can’t stomach it.”
Carver said the extra $32,500 that would come from city funds would be better used elsewhere.
“I wholeheartedly understand this as a principle thing. $12,000 is plenty for me. That’s more than enough,” Carver said. “We can use the money for other things (such as) street projects (and) capital improvements. The $12,000 is an even number. I’m fine; that’s plenty for a part-time job.”