WILMINGTON — Seeking to re-establish city council’s salary level so members can be eligible for the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), legislation was proposed Thursday to make that happen which would more than double council members’ compensation.
The mayor was sharply critical of the idea during discussion, which was followed by a motion for a first reading that carried 6-1. A proposed legislative item must be approved by a majority of council upon a third reading.
Introduced by council’s Judiciary Committee, its Chair Matt Purkey gave background information and history concerning the proposed action. OPERS, not the city, sets a minimum compensation level for retirement contributions by government employees and elected officials.
In late 2005, Wilmington City Council passed a measure that caused the salary levels for the jobs of elected officials and salaried-appointed officials to be changed going forward to meet at least the minimum compensation level for OPERS eligibility.
After DHL’s exodus devastated the local economy leading to layoffs of city employees and other hardships, council in spring 2013 rescinded the 2005 ordinance and made it so that council’s salary no longer was tied to the OPERS minimum.
On Thursday when Purkey mentioned that the proposed ordinance would more than double council compensation, Mayor John Stanforth asked, “Did you say double? That’s a pretty good pay raise, folks.”
Purkey responded that is part of the reason they were discussing it.
Currently, a council member makes $3,780 a year. If the legislative proposal passes, the salary would go to $8,508, said Wilmington Auditor Mary Kay Vance.
Upon hearing the two figures, the mayor said, “Holy.”
Vance pointed out the increase would have to wait until after council’s next election cycle. Stanforth said, “I don’t care.”
Purkey said for his part it was odd all seven members of council ran unopposed in 2021, and in trying to spark some interest in people running for council one thing he heard is that it’s not worth it, not worth the time.
Making council members OPERS-eligible would be an added benefit, he said.
Purkey acknowledged it’s hard to have these discussions because it is politicians voting for their own pay raises — if they get re-elected.
Council President Mark McKay said it makes sense to him to compare council’s compensation here with those of other cities about the same size, then added “the mayor seems aghast” at the size of the increase.
“Aghast?” said the mayor. “Brian [Service Director Brian Shidaker who was in the audience], go get my axe handle. If I approve this, I want you to beat me with it.”
The line produced some chuckles.
“You want to more than double your salary,” Stanforth added. “Are you kidding me? This will not pass the ‘Sheila Test’ — Sheila the waitress at Bob Evans. She works hard for her money and pays her taxes. Do you think she’d approve? Do you think she’d approve doubling?”
After Stanforth said the waitress works hard for her money and pays her taxes, Councilmember Jonathan McKay said, “So do we.”
President of Council Mark McKay said another way to look at it, instead of we’re doubling our salary all at once, is to take it back over the number of years there was no pay increase.
Stanforth said, “It’s called government service. I don’t do it for the money.”
Purkey said he doesn’t know that this is a case where anyone’s doing it for the money, adding “but it’s open for discussion.”
Plans are to get more information about council salaries for cities of a comparable size.
In the roll call vote whether to give the proposed legislation a first reading, Councilmember Nick Eveland voted no while the other six members voted yes.
Also at Thursday’s meeting:
• Shidaker gave council a heads-up to anticipate various expenditures expected in the coming months.
• Councilman Jonathan McKay spoke about the Wilmington origins of the new Ohio Veterans’ Heritage Protection Act designed to protect war memorials. Those origins have to do with an attempt to sell the Civil War cannons stationed at a war memorial site in Sugar Grove Cemetery — the prospect occurring when the cemetery was privately owned and needed funds to stay afloat, said McKay.
• Elks Lodge 797 has donated $750 to the Wilmington Police Department to go toward the purchase of a portable Automatic External Defibrillator.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.