CANTON — During an often contentious marathon three-and-a-half-hour meeting Thursday night, the Canton City Council voted to increase pay rates for the members of the council and the mayor.
Councilman John Beresford brought the proposed raises to the City Council, which, as of Jan. 1, 2014, will bring the compensation for council members up from $2,100 to $8,000 a year and that of the mayor from $3,000 to $10,000. The City Council approved the raises 4-1, with Councilman Glen Cummins voting against it. Councilman Bob Rush was absent.
Since Beresford brought the proposed raises before the City Council in early May, opponents of the proposal have latched onto the fact that the pay hikes represent more than a 300 percent raise for both the members of the council and the mayor.
But Beresford once again defended his position Friday morning.
“You don’t take percentages to the bank — what you take is cash,” he said. “The fact is when you are underpaid for the work (you) do, it’s only justified.”
Beresford said the raises are long overdue for the elected officials of the city, especially when considering the compensation rates of the councils and mayors of other cities similar in size to Canton.
“Look around at the other councils in the other cities. We’re still below them,” Beresford said. “We didn’t go for greatness. We could’ve gone for $20,000 and $30,000 for the (mayor).”
The most-often mentioned city in the debate over Canton’s elected officials’ pay has been nearby Woodstock. Canton has about 23,000 residents and is Cherokee County’s second most populated city, just behind Woodstock. But in Woodstock, members of the city council and the mayor make $9,000 and $12,000 a year, respectively.
During the Canton City Council’s discussion Thursday night, even Cummins was not opposed to raising compensation, and in fact suggested a higher set of raises.
Cummins did, however, suggest moving the effective date of the raises to Jan. 1, 2016, so no sitting official could benefit unless re-elected.
He had an ordinance up for a vote on the agenda Thursday night reflecting his effective date, but his ordinance was not voted on because Beresford’s passed.
Despite the fact that some current officials could benefit, Beresford stood behind his effective date of Jan. 1, 2014, during the meeting.
Beresford said he chose Jan. 1 as the effective date for the compensation raises because it coincides with the expiration of the council’s retirement plan. Doing away with this plan will save the city “a tremendous amount of money,” Beresford said. He said Friday that this amount of money was about $24,000 annually.
Mayor Gene Hobgood also pointed out during the meeting that some current officials would benefit and asked City Attorney Bobby Dyer if state law would allow that.
Dyer said it would.
Councilman Bill Bryan spoke in favor of the raises during the meeting and said that if any council members or the mayor didn’t approve of their raise to “just give it back.”
“Give it back if you don’t want it,” Bryan said. “It’s that simple. My point of being in favor of this is: I do believe it would encourage possibly some younger people (to run). And if the next bunch doesn’t want to earn that much money, they can always give themselves a reduction.”
Thursday night’s vote was not the first from the Canton City Council on raising salaries for council members and the mayor.
Beresford brought forward the same proposal in December of last year, but after the council passed it, Hobgood chose to use his veto power to stop the raises.
Hobgood said when Beresford brought the proposal back in May, that he might choose to use the veto option again. But Hobgood said Friday that he is less likely to pursue this option.
“I’ll take the next few days and make that decision,” Hobgood said. “It probably wouldn’t do any good. (The council) would probably override it.”