Delaware council: City manager, clerk get 4% raises

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Delaware City Council members on Dec. 14 debated whether it is appropriate to grant themselves pay raises amid the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

On split votes, council approved ordinances increasing their pay by about $300 more a year per member, as well as the pay of City Manager Tom Homan and council clerk Elaine McCloskey.

Delaware City Hall

Members voted 6-1 on raises for Homan and McCloskey.

City community-affairs coordinator Lee Yoakum said Homan's annual salary currently is $158,912.

McCloskey's raise is 4%, increasing it to $25.75 an hour effective Dec. 23.

Council member George Hellinger voted against the raises for Homan and McCloskey.

The ordinance on Homan's raise reads, "Each year, pursuant to the city manager’s employment agreement, city council conducts a review and adjusts the manager’s salary accordingly. This year’s employment agreement reflects a 4% annual increase. The effective date of the increase will be 12/23/20."

Most of council's discussion, however, focused on the council raises, which were approved on a 4-3 vote. Dissenting were Hellinger and council members Cory Hoffman and Drew Farrell.

Hellinger said because of the pandemic, "entire businesses have been impacted ... many employees have lost part or all of their income, their health care and other benefits.”

“Government workers have been largely held harmless,” he said. “Few if any government workers lost their jobs, lost their health care or saw their earnings decrease."

He also said government workers routinely get raises and a large percentage of workers in the private sector have “no such luxury." 

Council member Lisa Keller said the ordinance on council raises follows a city policy created before the pandemic, when it was determined council members weren't being paid enough to qualify for a year of retirement.

"That is where the policy came about -- that City Council members simply had to at some point deal with their own salaries because so long had gone by with no one wanting to do that,” Keller said. “Because there is no one else to give us a raise or not a raise. We have to face this unpleasant task ourselves. So to try to take some of the subjectivity out of that, we determined there would be a policy in place to examine this on even years, and it was suggested we give ourselves the same raise we were giving the management pay plan, remembering this is only ... every other year.

 "The raise we're actually talking about is $300-ish for the entire year,” she said. “What it does help do is not burden a future council with going 10 years without a raise, and then that council needs to raise it so significantly, just to qualify for a year of retirement or something like that. Then they are burdened. The plan was to split out that burden on even years and to do it very tiny, in very tiny amounts so that it didn't end up being a large amount for any one council.

 "We're talking about $2,100 total for all of us. For an entire year. Not a month. For a year," she said.

Hellinger said if council wants to grant itself raises, they should take effect in January 2024, after all sitting council members have faced another election.

"Although it may be legal, although I know that (former city attorney) Darren (Shulman) said he didn't have a problem with it, ... it doesn't smell right. It smells bad," Hellinger said.

Hoffman cited the effects of the pandemic.

"Everyone's going to plan till they got hit in the mouth, and I think we've had to make all kinds of changes (because of the pandemic),” he said. “Sometimes you've just got to go on the fly and see what makes sense in the circumstances." 

Farrell said the pandemic ultimately might reduce city finances. During an economic downturn, he said, the private sector will feel the economic effects more quickly than governments.

Keller said council might want to revisit the topic in a future work session. 

"To avoid this situation in the future, perhaps the council members that disagree with the current policy ... could propose a new one that feels better to them," she said. "The (current) policy was to prevent this very issue that's happening right now."

The ordinance on council raises reads, "That effective Jan. 1, 2022, the salary of the mayor (Carolyn Kay Riggle, who also is a voting council member) shall be $11,845 per year and the salary for each member of city council, except the mayor, shall be $10,300 per year."

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