Just weeks after a protracted budget struggle froze wages of Barberton's nonunion employees, City Council's finance committee on Monday nudged forward a controversial proposal to sharply increase the salaries of elected officials.
More than 30 residents and city employees attended the meeting, which was moved to the main council chambers due to the high interest.
Barberton Human Resources Director Elizabeth Daugherty told committee members that six city employees earn more than Mayor William Judge and 21 make more than Law Director Lisa O. Miller.
"I do think an increase for elected officials is in order," Daugherty said.
The suggested salary increases for the city’s mayor, law director and finance director come after budget woes earlier this year. At the time, city firefighters made concessions to save the city about $47,000. Canceled pay raises for nonunion employees saved another $27,672.
In return, the city’s jail was kept open and layoffs were canceled, but the mayor warned that the 2020 budget would be challenging.
Judge said in a phone interview Monday before the finance committee meeting that the proposed increases were set in motion years ago by recommendations of a consultant.
“When you are a manager of x number of people and they are making more than you,” he said, “it’s not a good position to be in.”
Like any municipality or organization, a city needs to offer competitive salaries to retain its employees, Judge said. The pay increases would take effect starting Jan. 1, if the ordinance passes before a state law cutoff date.
Under the proposal, the mayor's annual salary would increase from $90,740 this year to $94,000 in 2020, $98,000 in 2021, $106,000 in 2022 and $118,000 in 2023 — a 30 percent hike over the four-year period.
The plan also calls for the finance director's salary to increase 32.5 percent from $84,527 this year to $112,000 in 2023 and the law director's salary to jump 38.6 percent from $88,000 to $112,000.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Nina Angeloff said that the city is in a tough spot.
"[T]here isn't any money, but you can't have the mayor making less than a supervisor," she said.
During Monday night's meeting, Eddie Lawson, president of Local 265 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said city workers would have a difficult time supporting a substantial raise for the mayor, law director and finance director.
"We can barely keep going as it is," Lawson said. "It doesn't sit well with me."
Rob Mingle, head of the patrolmen’s union, said he’s taking a wait-and-see attitude, but declined to further discuss the issue.
“Once it’s a done deal,” Mingle said, “we will definitely have a comment.”
The proposal is expected to be discussed by the full City Council at its next meeting May 13.
Finance committee Chairwoman Carla Debevec, gave support to the measure with the understanding that she would seek changes.
"I am going to vote 'yes' with the intention of amending this piece of legislation," Debevec said.
On social media over the weekend, Debevec wrote that the proposal caught her by surprise. She said in a Facebook post that such an increase would be “irresponsible.”
“As chair of Finance, I was completely surprised by the request and had no idea it was coming!” Debevec wrote. “We, meaning the city council members, did not draft this legislation and we have not discussed it!”
The mayor said an email was sent to city employees on Friday about the proposal, which would amend a previous ordinance to provide the increases. The plan was submitted by Daugherty.
Judge said adjustments could be made to the proposal as — and if — it’s considered by council.
“I think we got in an uproar prematurely, the general public,” the mayor said. “I recognize the timing is horrible.”
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or email@example.com.