Councilmen will pay themselves more

06/16/2014 9:05 AM

06/16/2014 9:06 AM

The Smithfield Town Council last week adopted a 2014-15 budget that raises the cost of some services while granting pay raises to council members and the mayor.

The council cut spending in the general fund by $200,000, to $12.9 million from $13.1 million, and by $300,00 in the electric fund, to $19.8 million from $20.1 million. But those cuts fall short of offsetting a $900,000 increase in the water and sewer fund, which will see spending grow from $5.6 million to $6.5 million to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The new budget cuts five maintenance positions, three from public works and two from parks and recreation. Instead, the town will hire contractors to do the work, such as cutting grass.

Last week, Smithfield held its last two budget meetings of the year. During the first, councilmen nitpicked spending, shaving a handful of expenses while approving raises for themselves and town employees. The second meeting was a public hearing on the spending plan.

Council raises

Under the new budget, a councilman who made $2,557 a year will now make $4,000. The mayor, who used to make $4,375 a year, will make $6,000.

Councilmen broached the subject of pay raises for themselves at an earlier meeting and asked Town Manager Paul Sabiston to look at how Smithfield compared to other towns. He found that Smithfield council pay was low compared to the state average for towns of similar size. Also, Smithfield hadn’t raised its council salaries for at least 15 years, Mayor John Lampe said.

At an earlier meeting, Lampe had said: “If it’s a burden to serve the town, if it costs you money to come and be a council member, then there’s something wrong. It shouldn’t be a negative to you, because otherwise, only wealthy people can run.”

The council approved the raises 5-1, with Emery Ashley casting the lone dissenting vote. Perry Harris abstained, which counts as a yes. Andy Moore left the meeting early and wasn’t there for the vote.

“I know how much time I spend serving on this town council,” Ashley said. “I knew the salary going in; I didn’t do it for the salary.”

Lampe said he would continue to accept only $1 a year in salary. And at Wednesday’s meeting, Ashley said he would not accept the pay raise.

On a related matter, the council also asked staff to see if pay for service on town committees was in line with what similar-sized towns pay.

Budget changes

The council approved 2-percent merit raises for town employees.

Originally, on Monday, the council had agreed to award 2.5-percent merit raises to hourly employees and bonuses of no more than $1,000 to managers. Councilman Travis Scott made that motion, noting that bonuses for managers would cost less than pay increases.

That move did not enjoy unanimous support, with Councilmen Andy Moore and Roger Wood voting against it. Wood said he didn’t want to treat employees differently.

On Wednesday, Councilman Harris made a motion to award 2-percent merit raises for all employees, and that motion passed unanimously.

The council cut library funding slightly, from $275,000 to $250,000. The council had given about $257,000 in 2011-12 and 2012-13 before bumping it up to $272,000 this year. Sabiston said the library requested $275,000 for the coming year, but Harris said the council should give what it has historically given the library.

The council earmarked $20,000 next year for economic development. The money will come from the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. Interim director Sarah Edwards said that was fine with her since she is the only employee until a her board hires a new director. The downtown group will make do with $55,000 next year instead of $75,000. Ashley suggested earmarking the $20,000 for economic development and deciding later what to do with it.

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