Whitehall News

Raises move forward with city's budget

Mayor, council members defend salary hikes for city directors

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Whitehall City Council members are expected to adopt the city's 2014 operating budget at next week's meeting -- the final scheduled meeting of the year.

"It won't be the budget everyone wants, but I think it will be a good budget," City Councilwoman Leslie LaCorte said at the Dec. 3 council meeting.

LaCorte has criticized the budget Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard presented because it includes salary increases in excess of the standard 2 percent cost-of-living increases received by a majority of city employees, and specifically questioned salary increases for Director of Information Technology Tom Kneeland and Development Director Zach Woodruff.

Maggard appears to have assuaged a majority of council members, explaining the city needs to be as competitive as possible.

"To attract the best and the brightest, you have to pay them what they deserve," said Maggard, adding that while Whitehall cannot compete against cities such as Dublin or New Albany, it still must do all it can to keep a high-quality staff.

Councilman Wes Kantor concurred.

"You have to pay what it necessary to have good people," but we are controlling spending, Kantor said Dec. 3.

"It's necessary to be competitive. I think we're being competitive, not extravagant," Councilman Robert Bailey said.

The 2014 budget sets aside $84,600 for the salary of the director of information technology. This year, $83,543 was appropriated. The position paid $72,579 in 2012.

Next year's budget allots $73,000 for the development director's salary. This year, $66,500 was appropriated. The position was funded in 2012 for $61,787.

Council members also had questioned an increase in the salary for a IT technician to support the director. The budget provides an appropriation of $63,471 in 2014. The positron was funded at $34,269 in 2012, and $56,700 was appropriated in 2013.

Whitehall resident and former City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Thompson, speaking at the Dec. 3 council meeting, said Whitehall "is not a wealthy community" and "cannot compete with Dublin, New Albany or even Gahanna," challenging the city to allow employees to depart for higher-paying jobs in those cities rather than postponing the construction of a community center to "satisfy bloated salaries."

Earlier this year, Maggard announced, because of a culmination of factors, including moderate losses on income tax revenue in connection with sequestration of federal employees at Defense Supply Center Columbus, that Whitehall would postpone the construction of a community center at the site of the former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Country Club Drive.

Maggard said the raises for the two director positions in question are in excess of 2 percent because neither is even at the middle of the salary range for the position, whereas other department directors already are near the top of their salary ranges.

Until now, Kneeland has been underpaid, Maggard said, and Woodruff has proven himself a capable successor to former Development Director Dan Lorek, who resigned in 2011.

An ordinance appropriating $27.4 million for the city's general fund, street department and material expenses is scheduled for a third and final reading Dec. 17. The general fund portion of the appropriation is $26.2 million.

In a related matter, Auditor Dan Miller at the Dec. 3 council meeting responded to reports that the budget reflected deficit spending beginning in 2015.

"This isn't set in stone; it's a forecast. We have to fix it and we have done so in the past," said Miller, alluding to previous operating budgets projected with a deficit but adjusted so as to be balanced or have a surplus by year's end.

The final regular council meeting of the year is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Whitehall City Hall, 360 S. Yearling Road.