When the Westminster Mayor and Common Council meets Monday, the council is expected to vote on an ordinance regarding health insurance and other non-cash benefits the mayor and council receives that was vetoed by Mayor Joe Dominick last month. The ordinance was put forward to formalize what had already been in practice — since July 1, 2014 for council members and since, it is believed, at least the 1990s for the mayor.
Council members Kevin Dayhoff, Ann Thomas Gilbert and Council President Gregory Pecoraro voted in favor of the ordinance while councilman Benjamin Yingling voted against it last month. Councilman Tony Chiavacci was out of town and missed the meeting. Because the ordinance did not receive Dominick’s signature, four of the five council members would have to vote for it on Monday to pass it. If that were to happen, a line would be added to the “salaries and compensation” section of the city code that would state: “Elected officials of the City shall be considered to be full-time employees for purposes of eligibility for non-cash employee benefit.”
Dominick said at the last meeting, he has “a hard time making an argument that we’re full-time employees.” He said he believes the intent of the annual compensation is meant to offset the expenses that elected officials take on, and that the position is, in essence, a volunteer one.
We agree with all of that. While we appreciate the choice to try to formalize this for the sake of transparency, and we would not be opposed to a significant pay raise for these officeholders, we urge the council members not to vote for this ordinance.
The mayor of Westminster receives a salary of $10,000 per year, the council president makes $3,000 and the other council members make $2,400. The mayor and several of the council members have said they decline to use the benefits. But what if all six did? The health, dental and vision benefits package available to them as well as eligible family members could easily run into a value of more than all those salaries combined even if only one were to take advantage of it. Taxpayers should not have to foot that bill.
The Times reached out to officials of Carroll County’s seven other municipalities and all said their part-time elected officials do not receive health benefits. We acknowledge that running the county’s largest municipality, the county seat, comes with challenges some of the smaller towns do not. It requires more availability and, we would guess, more time spent at events, working on the city’s behalf and on researching important votes. Given that, we would be in favor of seeing council members receive a nice raise. Each of their salaries could be doubled and it would still cost the city less than if two members received health coverage.
As required by the city’s charter, Dominick said on Wednesday night, he notified the members of the council that he would not be signing the ordinance and he outlined his reasoning to each of them in an email. In what he wrote, he asked them to consider whether their position as an elected official keeps them from being able to obtain full-time employment and the benefits that go along with that. In his opinion, he wrote, it does not.
Chiavacci told us last month he treats the position as a 24/7, 365-day obligation. “At the end of the day, some of us take this job very seriously as a full-time position,” he said. That is a commendable attitude and, we’re sure, his commitment is much appreciated. But we assume anyone who holds public office takes it seriously. And, at the local municipal level, the positions are not intended to be full-time.
Perhaps at some point that will change, it will be decided that the mayor and council members should be putting in 40 hours per week and thus be deserving of full-time benefits from the city.
Unless and until that happens, however, the council should vote against this ordinance, fall in line with their counterparts from all the other municipalities in Carroll and not give themselves benefits not available to the part-time workers of the city they represent.