A raise for Worthington City Council members could come as early as next year after council tabled budget conversations until it determines a new salary for its members.

A raise for Worthington City Council members could come as early as next year after council tabled budget conversations until it determines a new salary for its members.

The ability for council to raise its salary was part of a series of charter amendments passed in the Nov. 8 election. The amendment allows council, through an ordinance, to make a change to the pay rates that would be effective immediately. In the past, changes would only have taken effect for newly elected members.

Worthington City Council members currently are paid only $50 per meeting, or about $1,800 per year. The rate is easily the lowest in the area, and has been unchanged since 1988.

At its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 5, council members decided that in the interest of efficiency, they should determine whether they would increase pay before officially adopting a budget for 2017.

They largely agreed the increase is overdue, and compared themselves to a list of 18 other similar municipalities that city staff put together. Of those 18 communities, 12 paid council members more than $720 a month, with some slightly under that figure.

The comparisons led to Councilman Scott Myers proposing a $600 per month figure that he called "the general number floating around."

Most council members seemed agreeable to the number, but Councilman Doug Smith said it should be lower

"I think $500 puts us where we need to be," he said. "My logic is that even that might be a bit high, but with what other communities are doing ... that number might make us more consistent."

But a key part of the equation is that $600 (or perhaps $601, an issue being investigated by the city's legal team) is the threshold of pay that qualifies a public employee for the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

Through OPERS, employees gain years of service that contribute to retirement plans. If council members qualified for OPERS, they would contribute 10 percent of the salary into OPERS, while the city would pay 14 percent.

Some on council felt the OPERS threshold was a good way to gauge the salary, but Smith felt it was unnecessary.

He said the OPERS minimum had "serious impact" on the city, to which Councilman David Norstrom said Smith's "definition of serious impact needs to be reviewed."

"Why do you want (OPERS)?" Smith asked the council members.

"It's a benefit," Councilman Scott Myers responded. Norstrom added that it was "a very cheap benefit."

Smith was not satisfied.

"We should pick a number because it's fair and consistent," he said, "not because of the benefits."

But most on council seemed to favor Councilman Doug Foust's assessment. He said the city shouldn't put weight on what it had done before. With council pay unchanged for nearly 30 years, it was time to wipe the slate clean and look at the context of similar cities with similar situations.

Ultimately, council decided to introduce an ordinance for a figure of $600 per month. It also decided to set pay for the council president at $700 per month; current President Bonnie Michael abstained from the discussion about her own salary.

"If we're modeling our pay after other communities, it's perfectly reasonable to suggest that the president should be paid more," Foust said.

The ordinance will have a public hearing at council's Monday, Dec. 19, meeting. Worthington residents will be able to make public comments at that meeting and next week's Monday, Dec. 12 meeting before council makes a decision on the ordinance.

A change would take effect Jan. 1.