By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will consider a recommendation from the city’s audit and budget committee to increase the salaries of the mayor and aldermen at its 5:30 p.m. meeting today at City Hall.
The mayor is currently paid a yearly salary of $60,000, while each alderman is compensated $12,000 per year. The proposed agenda item would increase the mayor’s earnings by $11,500 to $71,500. Aldermen would receive a $3,000 raise and be paid $15,000 yearly.
If approved by the board, the increase would take effect October 1.
The committee consists of Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill.
The last pay raise for the board of aldermen occurred in 2005.
When asked to comment on the agenda item, Perkins spoke in support of it, while Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said he would likely vote against it.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said he disagrees with raising any elected official’s salary at this time and will veto a vote in favor of raising the mayor’s salary if it passes.
“I do not think that $32,000 spent on salary increases for elected officials is the best use of city resources at this time,” Wiseman said. “Should the board members wish to raise their own salaries, I will not intervene with that decision. As for the mayor’s salary, I do not wish to have my salary increased. I have not asked for it and if a motion passes to increase the mayor’s salary I will veto it. We have many pressing needs for city services, city infrastructure and … the salaries of our employees, many of which are underpaid. If we’re going to have a discussion about any salaries being increased, the discussion should begin with hard-working employees whose salary is not keeping pace with those of peer cities.”
Perkins said the measure is not designed to give the current mayor or board a raise. Rather, it is intended to increase compensation for those who are elected for the next term this summer.
“This is proposed for the next mayor and board. We’re not giving it to Parker Wiseman. There’s no guarantee he’s going to be back. There’s no guarantee anyone from Wards 1 through 7 will be back. This increase is for the office; not for an individual,” Perkins said.
Dumas said at a time when the board has caught flak for approving the issuance of certificates of participation to fund a new city hall, he believes a self-appointed raise would be unwise.
“$12,000 a year doesn’t touch what we do, but you don’t do it for money anyway. It’s a public service,” Dumas said. “I hope those who fuss about (the new city hall facility) being a waste of taxpayer money aren’t the same ones asking for the raise. I’d rather have a good home than a few extra thousand dollars a year.”
Perkins, who has spoken at several meetings about the need for the city to be fiscally responsible and was outspoken in his disagreement with the board’s decision to authorize the lease-purchase contract with West Brothers Construction to begin building a new city hall, said this proposal is not in conflict with his financial philosophies. The proposed increase is based on a comparison and average of municipalities of like-size populations based on a study by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government, he said.
“I think I can truthfully say to taxpayers that this is a fiscally conservative proposal given the amount … and given the fact that it has been eight years and three months since the last increase. What the public needs to understand is that this board is not increasing its (own) salary. Never during my time on the board has the voted to increase (aldermen) salaries during its term,” he said. “If we were doing this every year, I would say no.”
Also on the board’s agenda is a proposal to tear down the abandoned facility that used to house Starkville Electric Department to make way for construction to begin on the new municipal building. An objection filed against the board’s authorization of the payment plan for the building was filed and the city went to court to defend its action before 14th Chancery District Judge Jim Davidson Jr. in November. Davidson ruled in favor of the city, but the court proceedings delayed groundbreaking of the facility from its original intended time last summer. Despite the setback, Wiseman said the city is still in position to have construction finished by the end of 2014 should the proposal pass.