Council considers pay raise

COVINGTON - The Covington City Council and mayor could be getting a pay raise.

The council held a work session Thursday afternoon to discuss increasing the mayor's annual salary from $12,000 to $18,000 and the yearly salary for council members from $6,000 to $9,000.

Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan said the work demand on the council and mayor has increased in recent years, but the current salaries have been in effect since 1977.

"There are more demands on this body of people as a policy board than there ever has been," Cowan said, adding that the council is doing "double the work" it was 10 years ago.

While acknowledging that, "It's never popular to vote yourself a raise," Mayor Kim Carter added, "I don't know anybody that hasn't had a raise in 32 years."

Council members Janet Goodman, Mike Whatley and Hawnethia Williams were in agreement that the issue should go before the council for a vote, but Councilman Keith Dalton said now is not the time to pass a pay raise. He said citizens are losing jobs and the city's own department heads have been asked to cut back on spending.

"My biggest thing is just looking at what people out there are going through. I can't do it. My conscience just will not allow me," Dalton said.

Council members John Howard and Ocie Franklin did not attend the work session.

The pay raise would amount to an increase of about $24,000 in the budget, Carter said.

"Despite our own personal situations and our empathy and sympathy for our neighbors we're seeing this happen to, we've got to keep remembering we are in good financial shape as a city," she said.

During a financial update in December, it was reported the city has nearly $40 million in reserves.

Goodman said department heads are always requested to spend only what is necessary.

"There will never be a good time," to approve a pay raise, Goodman said. "It doesn't exist because people are going to complain, I don't care if we've got $150 million."

Cowan said that evidence shows the council and mayor have done a good job of managing city money.

He said the city is operating with 13 unfilled positions, with employees picking up the extra work. He asked the council to consider the value of their positions to the city, adding that if they served on the board of directors for a private company, they would receive much higher compensation.

He also noted the council spends a lot of personal time answering constituent concerns.

"When y'all are elected to this office ... you're at it 24/7. When you walk out of here, you're still a council person," he said.

Goodman agreed that the position "is just like a doctor being on call."

Cowan also noted the council is now holding hour-long work sessions prior to every regular meeting and that the city's population and utility customers have increased dramatically.

Since 1998, the city's population increased from 10,026 to 14,712, he reported.

Also, utility customers have increased from 29,145 to 38,962.

City Manager Steve Horton pointed out that the city serves many residents outside the city limits through utilities.

"You may not be the political representative of all those people out there, but you are the utility representative," he said.

Williams added that the council also devotes time to joint projects with the county, such as the economic development strategic plan currently in the works.

Dalton asked if the raise could be put on the ballot for voters to decide.

But Cowan said it would require a change to the city charter that can only be made by the council.

"I'm a no. I can't do it. I just can't do it," Dalton said.

"I don't think any of us ran for the money. I ran to serve and make this a better place. It ain't for the money, the glory or the fame," he later added.

"Most people who are objective, when they look at this and realize what we do - some people think we just sit down here and flap our gums and go home. They don't realize the work we do and the hours we put in. ... All of us are here for the same reason. Nobody's ambition is bigger than another's," Goodman responded.

City ordinance requires the pay raise must be approved before qualifying for the 2009 Municipal Election. Qualifying takes place Aug. 31 through Sept. 4.

If approved, the pay increase would go into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

The issue will be on the council's Feb. 16 agenda. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, located at 2194 Emory St.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.