Fairhope overrides council salary veto

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FAIRHOPE – By a 4-1 vote, the Fairhope City Council overrode Mayor Karin Wilson’s veto of an ordinance increasing elected officials’ salaries for the upcoming term.

The council passed the ordinance on Sept. 9 to increase the salaries of the City Council by $200 a month and the mayor’s salary by $52,600 a year when the new term starts in 2020.

Mayor Karin Wilson asked that the council wait until Auburn University completes a study of city salaries before deciding on pay rates for the new term.

“Since Auburn University was hired and has begun our compensation study for employees and elected officials, I’ve asked the council to wait until this is completed,” Wilson said. “Even if the whole study is not completed, we can have them complete the official’s portion by the deadline, Feb. 25 of next year.”

Councilman Jay Robinson voted against overriding the veto. Robinson said when he voted against the salary ordinance on Sept. 9 that he was willing to wait for the Auburn Study to be completed before deciding on salaries.

Under the new plan, council members will receive $10,800 a year, up from the current $9,600. The salary of the council president would increase from $10,800 a year to $13,000 a year.

Wilson said the salary does not reflect the benefit of receiving free family medical insurance. She said the value of the insurance package was $17,200 a year in 2017. Because of city cost-cutting measures, such as not offering some benefits to new hires, that sum will drop to $15,576, Wilson said.

The mayor said she did not object to the pay raise for council members, but it was unfair that elected officials receive benefits not available to employees.

“This plan currently when approved the way it was perpetuates a free family insurance package which is no longer available to new hires as of 2017,” Wilson said. “When I encouraged council to change this financial aid unsustainable health package for the taxpayers. The city now has a premium employees pay for family insurance and it is very competitive. The most important part of this change is it eliminates the 100 percent participation when there is a zero premium and increases the likelihood of spouses keeping their own employer insurance policy that is the real saving, not the comparison of the annual cost.”

Councilman Jimmy Conyers said the city has provided health insurance to council members since 1992. He said the city could charge council members for the benefit, but would then have to either provide a larger pay increase or the cost would cancel out the proposed raise.

“If we were going to adjust it, and take it to the current employees, the new hires, are paying, that’s $275 a month for family coverage, $75 a month for individuals. I could see doing that,” he said. “I think that would make sense, but at the same time I would want to maintain the council compensation where it is and then I’m proposing $200, so if you were to increase that salary to offset that, it’s sort of six of one, a half dozen of the other. At the end of the day, I think all the conversation comes down to a difference of opinion over that $275 a month, which is not going to change a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.”

Council President Jack Burrell said the main intention of the salary ordinance was to increase the pay of the mayor’s office. The mayor now receives $32,400 a year.

“We’re not voting ourselves insurance. That already exists and goes back to 1992. The only change was that we would be voting the next council a $200-a-month raise and we would be voting whoever is next mayor a $53,000 raise,” Burrell said. “Technically, the mayor of Fairhope is classified as a part-time job. We keep hearing we’re working part-time, but nobody believes it’s a part-time job. We feel it’s a full-time job, and the mayor should be duly compensated for that.”

Burrell said that if the veto had stood, the insurance benefits passed 27 years ago, would remain in place.

In previous terms, the city also offered the mayor the opportunity to serve as utilities superintendent, a move that would increase the mayor’s pay to more than $100,000.

Wilson refused the superintendent position when she took office saying that the city needed to use the money to hire a other personnel for utilities.