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Wednesday, December 19,2012

Council votes itself a raise, change benefits to non-union staffers

By David DeWitt

Athens City Council passed a number of ordinances Monday night finalizing end-of-the-year budget work that will provide a fringe benefits package to non-union personnel, give a modest raise to Council members in 2014, and set up next year's fiscal plan.

A couple of large issues on Council's plate – a proposed rezoning of a far east-side neighborhood and an anti-fracking "bill of rights" proposal – will not be considered until after the body reconvenes after the first of the year.

The city's budget for the next fiscal year includes a carryover of nearly $2 million. At-large member Chris Knisely said that revenues have been up slightly and that this carryover is a healthy size.

"City departments, many thanks to the people who conserved with all of their expenses," she said. "City expenses have been down so we have a healthy carryover. The mayor has worked within his budget and presented it to us, so many thanks to you."

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl noted that personnel costs account for about 77 percent of the general fund budget, which is about normal.

"Again, personnel and people are usually the highest expense," he said.

The general fund budget for 2013 is about $12.7 million. The entire budget is about $33.7 million, he said. That compares to $11.9 million in the general fund last year.

"We had almost $2 million between increased revenue and carryover," he said. "I know we've been spending some of that down the past few weeks on stuff we've needed – a wish list, so to speak. But again, I think it's a good budget at this point."

In recent years, carryover figures had been tighter for the city. Carryover is excess revenue that the city uses to pay the first month of bills for the year before income tax revenue starts rolling in. Several years ago, the carryover had dropped significantly from over $1 million down to $400,000 or so. Last year, it started to turn around, with carryover of around $900,000. And now it's nearing $2 million.

Wiehl had previously explained to Council that a few things have been added include a new police cruiser, some new grants and a renewed hazard waste pickup.

"Other activities, we did discuss putting more money into the transportation fund," he noted, which was accomplished. "It's well within our reserves right now."

Fourth Ward member Chris Fahl noted that the carryover is due to the city "doing a really great job with budgeting" and it's "not because the state has increased government services."

This is "no thanks to the state," Fahl added. "It's in spite of the state that you've been extraordinarily creative and responsible in doing the budgeting. And we really appreciate it. And the citizens should appreciate it."

She said citizen complaints should be directed at the state level as it looks like more cuts are going to continue to come down.

Indeed, the state has continually cut local government funds and money heading toward municipal coffers.

"We really pushed hard for (fiscal restraint) with my staff," Wiehl explained. "On one hand it's a shame because we kept squeezing them and squeezing them. But we're right now trying to look at where we might have fallen behind on things we need."

For instance, he said, he put $100,000 more in the recreation budget for next year.

Meanwhile, Knisely explained Monday that council's work on the non-union fringe benefit package will eliminate language about step increases and clarifies the system.

"We'll be working now with pay ranges," she said. "We've also had some clarifications of titles within the city."

She's said the changes have been made so that Athens' benefits for non-union personnel are more in line with peer cities as well as Ohio Revised Code.

"Some of it is also a clarification of language," she said. "This would add vacation and sick leave on a pro-rated basis for the amount of hours a person works… It also allows, as is allowed for other employees in the city, a donation of sick leave."

City Council members also passed an ordinance giving the body a raise for members who will be coming in January 2014.

Next year, in 2013, a number of city council members will be up for re-election. So this ordinance is not giving a raise to the current body, but the one that will be elected in November next year, which obviously will likely include some current members.

The raise is fairly modest. Members of City Council in Athens are part-time, and have received a salary of $7,462 since the freeze was implemented in 2009. Prior to the freeze, council had gotten annual raises of 3 percent. The body approved a 1 percent increase, which amounts to about $74 more per year for each City Council member.

"This is not for people currently in office," Knisely reiterated. "This for people who will be running for office and taking office (in 2014)."

At-large member Elahu Gosney was the sole vote against the raise.


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Hope there's no misunderstanding by the Mayor this time. Signed or unsigned, the ordinance goes into effect, either in 30 days after the signature or 40 days without.

The only way for the Mayor to stop it is by veto. But it looks like that's not going to happen since everybody is patting themselves on the back for fiscal conservatisim while sticking the excess in their successor's pocket.

Are these the same people that argue term limits, benefit rollbacks and salary adjustments (downward) for their federal representatives?



I'm glad that the print edition of this article left off the sentence "The raise is fairly modest." While that statement may be true, it is not the business of a news article to editorialize about whether or not something is modest.