CANTON — The Canton City Council inched closer to an agreement on potential pay raises for the council and mayor at its meeting Thursday, and the mayor said Friday that if it passes he would now be less likely to veto the proposal.
The City Council heard the first reading Thursday of Councilman John Beresford’s ordinance to raise council compensation from $2,100 a year to $8,000 and raise mayor pay from $3,000 to $10,000 a year.
Previously, Mayor Gene Hobgood said that if the ordinance were to pass, he might veto it, just as he did when an ordinance calling for the same raises passed in December.
But Friday, Hobgood said he is now less likely to veto the proposal, if it is passed with one stipulation suggested by Councilman Glen Cummins.
Cummins has also expressed concern over the ordinance because in the form presented by Beresford, some sitting councilmen — including Cummins — and Hobgood could benefit.
At the meeting Thursday though, he announced that he would support the ordinance if the effective date were set to Jan. 1, 2016.
By that time, Councilmen Jack Goodwin, Hooky Huffman, Cummins and the mayor could not benefit from the raises as they will be out of office, Cummins said.
“I’m not against increasing compensation for future councils,” Cummins said. “But I am against increasing mine.”
Huffman spoke up and said he could agree with the suggestion.
He added that the council had recently done away with the council’s retirement plan, saving the city money.
Hobgood acknowledged their pay is low when compared to other cities.
“It’s not that I actually oppose the change, because I quite honestly feel like we are down the line, compared to most (councils and mayors)” Hobgood said. “Nevertheless, I still feel that it’s probably not the right timing for it.”
Hobgood said he would rather see the money that would be used for the raise go to city employees, who he said haven’t had a raise in some time.
“Our employees have got very little pay increase over the last six or eight years,” he said. “And quite honestly, I would much rather see us take that money as an increase, divide it equally among all our employees, just as a means of saying, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done.’”
Beresford said he agreed city employees need a raise and said he planned to bring forward a pay increase for them soon.
“I know for a fact it’s been over six years that this council has operated with (the current compensation),” Beresford said. “But that really doesn’t have anything to do with what this is asking.”
Beresford said the mayor had political motives behind connecting the city employee salary with council compensation.
“Tying it in, as you just did tries to relate (the two). And think you hit on a key point,” he told Hobgood. “What I really think would be a bigger photo op for you is to say that you will not take the $10,000 and you’ll take $1 a year for your compensation.”
Hobgood laughed off the idea.
With the council’s mostly positive reaction to Cummins’ suggestion of future-dating the compensation raises, City Attorney Bobby Dyer said the council would have two ordinances to vote on at its second meeting in June: one with the effective date being Jan. 1, 2016, and one without.
Beresford, though, said Friday that, even with the seemingly positive reaction to Cummins’ suggestion, that he would not vote to set the compensation raises to take effect in 2016.
“This should be a simple straight up and down vote. I don’t know what (Cummins’) concern is,” he said. “If he is so concerned about people thinking he’s given himself a raise, he can do what I told the mayor to do.”
Beresford added that he didn’t believe the ordinance would pass with Cummins’ change.
At its meeting Thursday, the Canton City Council also:
• Unanimously approved a budget amendment to settle a law suit with a former Canton police officer over unpaid overtime pay. The settlement will cost the city $107,000;
• Approved a budget amendment for a “fire services feasibility study,” which is to be performed by Ecological Planning Group and will explore different options for the city to solve its fire services issues. The amendment was approved 5-1, with Cummins being the only member to vote against it. Cummins has expressed concern that the study will not include research on merging the Canton Fire Department with that of Cherokee County and other options. The study is billed at approximately $14,000; and
• Unanimously approved an authorization for the mayor to sign a $29,405 agreement with Rich and Associates to perform a study on how improve parking in downtown Canton.