Nearly two months of study by a citizen task force has failed to produce any agreement on how much future mayors of Aberdeen and members of the city council should be paid.
In June, Aberdeen's current mayor and city council appointed a salary task force to study the issue and recommend raises, if warranted. The panel met weekly beginning in July and heard from citizens, as well as the mayor and four council members.
During what was supposed to be their final meeting on Aug. 28, however, task force members did not come to an agreement on what they should recommend.
They tried again Tuesday evening, but after more than an hour of discussion that became heated at times, all they could agree on is an increase is needed, but not on how much.
Opinions vary widely
Chairman Mark Schlottman started by asking each of the members to give their opinions and proposed figures.
Member Lance Hersh said the current salary levels for the mayor and council "aren't even close to what the job affords to be paid."
"You're limiting your pool of people that can take this position," Hersh said, adding that the high time commitment deserved a higher amount of compensation.
Hersh cited the examples of previous mayors, noting that under former mayor Doug Wilson, the often-criticized Ripken Stadium deal was made, and that Fred Simmons' business suffered when he followed Wilson to the mayor's office. He also noted that current Mayor Michael Bennett retired in part in order to fulfill his duties as mayor.
"This job can't be done paying somebody part-time. It just doesn't exist unless you're saying that the only person that can be mayor is a retiree," Hersh said. "I guess this is fine, but again you're just limiting those demographics as mayor."
Hersh recommended that council members earn $12,500, an increase of $5,000 from what they earn currently, and that the mayor should earn $27,500, an increase of $17,500, but said that he wanted to come to a consensus with the other committee members and that cost of living increases should be taken into account.
The current salaries for the positions, which are part time, are $10,000 a year for mayor and $7,500 for council.
Member Bernard Backus recommended that each council member earn $12,000 and the mayor earn $18,000, noting that current salaries are "predicated on numbers of 17 years ago."
"The bottom line is, I agree with the $1,200, but I also agree with equalizing that dollar," Backus said, referring to restoring the council's previous monthly expense allotment of $100.
Member Paul Tormey said that although he'd like Hersh's proposed salary increase if he was running for mayor, he didn't think Aberdeen residents would accept such an increase.
"I think we'd look foolish putting that before the mayor and council," Tormey said. He said a $13,000 salary for the mayor and $10,000 for council members is a good compromise figure.
"If we're not all willing to compromise on a number, if somebody is going to say 'no, I'm not going to budge off of a number that I have in my head,' then we might as well close up shop," Tormey added.
While Schlottman agreed, member Ed Budnick did not, saying, "That's why there's seven of us here."
Budnick said that he did not think there should be an agreement on a figure when there was disagreement on the reasons being cited, noting that when council members lost their monthly allotment, they did not hand in letters of resignation.