HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne city commissioners may be receiving a salary increase even though Hawthorne is still considered in a state of financial emergency.
During Tuesday’s city commission meeting, members debated if it was the correct economic timing to raise commission members’ salaries back to their original rates.
There was a 10 percent salary reduction for the commissioners last year in an attempt to help mitigate the city’s budget deficit of about $400,000.
Now that the 2011/12 fiscal year’s budget has already been balanced, the commission debated if salaries should be raised back to their original amounts. Mayor Matthew Surrency opposed the increase.
“I had always been a big proponent of taking that 10 percent off anyway ever since I have been in office,” he said.
When it came time for the commission to vote, three of the four members agreed with the raise, while Vice Mayor Tommie Howard voted against the proposition. This was the only item on the agenda that was not passed unanimously.
Any ordinance that raises compensation of an individual or a group must be passed by a super majority, or 80 percent, of the commission. Since Howard voted against it, the proposition failed.
However, all of the commissioners were not present during the meeting to vote with or against the super majority. City Commissioner DeLoris Roberts was absent during the meeting due to illness.
Commissioner William Carlton objected because he said all of the members should be involved in the decision.
The mayor did not vote for the matter, but he made it known that he will voice his position regardless. Carlton disagreed with the mayor’s opinion to keep the salary lower.
“You often do voice your opinion, but it is kind of abnormal for a chair person to take that position,” he said.
The current fiscal year’s budget was passed during the last commission meeting, with the higher commission salaries included. If the ordinance for the 10 percent raise were to pass, the budget would remain the same.
City Manager Ellen Vause defended the past actions that worked toward a break-even point in the budget.
“We were under a budget crisis, and we had to take any measures to get balanced,” she said. “The commission and city employees did make a sacrifice in order to help the city get out of the severe budget issue we had.”
It was argued that the salary increase is not technically a raise because salaries were expected to be returned to the original rate. Commissioner Eleanor Randall said she believed the ordinance was just reestablishing the actions that were already decided upon in a past meeting.
Even though everyone knew the decrease was to be temporary, city code mandates that it is a raise, City Attorney Audrie Harris said.
“It is difficult because you took the action to reduce your salaries,” Harris said. “I can’t sit here and honestly say that it is not an increase.”
Harris later said it would be more appropriate to bring the matter to a full commission. Members agreed with this, and a final decision will be made during the next meeting on Oct. 18 when Commissioner Roberts is in attendance.
However, Mayor Surrency is unlikely to change his opinion on the subject.
“I couldn’t consciously take that increase when people next door to me are losing their jobs,” he said. “Nobody is getting rich up in here. That’s for sure.”Add a comment