By Sue Botos
For the first time in 10 years, the biannual ordinances setting salary for City Council members will call for a raise; however, council President Jim Moran has stated that due to changes in PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) benefit requirements, the move was necessary.
“Should it not be for the changes in the state government programs (PERS) minimums, we probably would be passing on a raise. No one on this council is doing it for the money,” Moran recently told West Life. The legislation, approved by council on Monday, raises members’ salaries by $2,000 yearly, to $12,000, and compensation for the council president’s position to $13,500 from $11,500.
Companion ordinances setting salaries for the law director ($56,000) and mayor ($81,500) stayed the same. As required by the county board of elections, compensation for elected positions must be set before May.
Moran added that the legislation covered positions only, and not individuals. “This does not have to do with council, it has to do with a number,” he said, further explaining that currently, council members make $875 monthly. Under the new PERS plan, they must total $1,000 monthly to receive retirement benefits.
The measures made their way through three required readings with little discussion by council. Moran said that, in light of financial times, this was not information he wanted to “shout from the rooftops,” but added that he wanted to provide relevant information.
The fact that the legislation did not receive much discussion did not sit well with former councilman Robert D’Alessandro, who asked council to justify the salary increases. “I personally voted against every pay increase. It had nothing to do with the person, it’s charter item,” He stated.
While admitting that he “had no dogs in this race,” Law Director Andy Bemer stated stated that due to changes in PERS health care, the current council wages were “below the threshold to enlist health care.”
Council members each spoke to D’Allesandro’s comments, with Ward 4 Councilman John Shepherd pointing out that the former councilman, in his remarks, mentioned that during his 16 years on council, members were paid enought o receive PERS benefits. Shephed added that, factoring in today’s cost of living, the current salaries were comprable to what D’Allesandro was making.
Moran explained that Rocky River was “in the middle” when it comes to council salaries of neighboring communities. He said that in Elyria the number is $14,000, and in Solon, council members are paid $11,877 annually. Some cities, he added, have their compensation lumped in with other city employees.
“In Westlake, every time someone got a 5-percent raise, council got a 5-percent raise. They never voted,” he said. He added that Westlake council members receive $13,900 annually, and meet twice monthly. Rocky River legislators meet weekly and take one month off during the summer, while some legislative bodies, such as Fairview Park, take a two-month break. Moran predicted that cities paying council members between $8,000 and $10,000 will follow suit, raising compensation levels to equal $1,000 monthly.
In a written statement given to West Life, Moran outlined the numerous committees, civic organizations and other community activities with which council members are involved. “Our contributions are numerous, not only individual but also as a group. Our position on council has been a commitment (of) both financial and personal time which is the mark of a group of councilmen that believes in giving back to the city,” he stated.
Moran said that while a nominal expense account has been made available to councilmen, “we have not spent a dime of city money.” Any expenses, such as gas needed to travel to events, is all out-of-pocket.
Moran added that he will be looking at council meeting notes from other cities over the next few weeks to determine how they will be addressing the salary question. “We must have the title and salary listed before people get their petitions in for the 2014-2015 terms,” he stated.
When asked about the timing of the raises in light of ongoing state budget cuts, Moran responded, “There is never a good time to do this. I have had the opportunity to see council work well for the last eight years, but I will tell you that this group is committed like no other and works well, with many people and for many people. This is a rate given for the position of council and is justified no matter who is in the position,” he stated.