The council also voted unanimously in favor of two-term limits for city council positions. The term limits must be approved by the state Legislature, so the council’s vote means the council will ask legislators to approve the limits.
City Council Member Bob Rush proposed the raise in the council members’ salaries to $8,000 per year each, and a raise in the mayor’s salary, bringing it to $10,000 annually, in conjunction with a pension freeze.
The annual salaries are now $2,100 for council members and $3,000 for the mayor.
“In looking through compensation for other areas around here, right now, they’re minimally five times what we get,” Rush said.
City Attorney Bobby Dyer said the city’s charter states that changes in salary must be made by ordinance, so the council may need to vote again.
Dyer said that, by law, a salary increase cannot take effect until after the next election (in November 2013), and it must then take effect for all members. Since pensions are not considered “compensation,” they are not subject to the same rules.
The council’s vote calls for the mayor and council’s pension plan to be eliminated at the end of each member’s term.
Council Member Hooky Huffman said a higher salary could help encourage people to run for local office.
“We have to do something to entice people to want to be here,” he said.
Council Member Bill Bryan said a higher salary might attract younger people in particular.
“There are no young people up here. One of the reasons young people are not interested is that they don’t have the time to take away from their money-making pursuits,” he said.
Mayor Gene Hobgood said freezing pensions could save the city $60,000 to $65,000 per year. He expressed doubts about raising salaries.
“We’ve gone through some tough times. I find it difficult to think in terms of raising my own salary in these economic times. I do think it needs to be done at some point,” he said.
Council Member John Beresford said the pensions are a “big money-maker” for council members and mayors.
“They go on and on and on,” he said. “There will be major savings if we (eliminate pensions).”
The increase in salaries will cost the city $42,400 per year. Combined with the pension freeze, the city can save a net amount of about $20,000 per year.
As for the term limits, the council and mayor discussed whether or not the limits would be retroactive, or if current council members would be able to run for two terms after the limits would be enacted.
Rush said the council must approve the term limits with a unanimous vote for the legislature to consider the measure.
“There can’t be dissenters. If we say this is retroactive, we’re going to have dissenters. I really believe that if you try to make it retroactive, it sounds vindictive,” he said.
As proposed, council members and the mayor would be limited to serving two terms in a position if the legislature approves the term limits. A two-term council member would still be eligible to run for mayor, and a two-term mayor would be eligible to run for a council post.
In other business, the city council:
Held a public hearing regarding the annual update of the amended Capital Improvements Element and 5-year Short-Term Work Plan for the city’s impact fee program. No public comments were made during the hearing.
Approved an amendment to a lease agreement with T-Mobile;
Approved budget amendments for holiday lights and for projection equipment at Canton Theatre;
Approved the acceptance of streets in Hampton Close and Reynolds Park at River Green;
Reappointed Wanda Roach, Cleveland Chambers and Lewis Cline to the Downtown Development Authority;
Approved the annual update of the amended Capital Improvements Element and 5-year Short-Term Work Plan for the city’s impact fee program;
Rejected a proposed rental car excise tax in a 5-1 vote;
Rejected all bids for ceiling repair due to compliance issues;
Approved the hiring of Mark Robillard Architects, Inc., for architecture services for renovations of council chambers;
Discussed a Georgia Municipal Association retirement benefit cost study. No vote was taken;
Voted 5-1 to change the city’s charter to remove the mayor’s ability to employ a staff;
Acknowledged Northside Hospital Inc. as successor to Northside Hospital – Cherokee, Inc.; and
Approved a pre-application for a trails program grant.