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Bardstown City Council discusses raising the pay of the next council and mayor

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 — Possible pay raises for the mayor of Bardstown and the members of the city council were a last-minute, unscheduled discussion topic at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Mayor Dick Heaton said news reports about pay raises for the county magistrates prompted his thoughts about pay raises for the members of the Bardstown City Council.

Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton discusses pay raises for the members of the city council.

Sitting mayors and council members cannot vote themselves pay increases while in office. They can however approve pay increases for the next mayor and council that will be elected in the November general election, and take office Jan. 1, 2019. By law, an election year is the only time a council can approve pay raises for its members or the mayor.

Currently, council members are paid $750 a month, and Heaton said that the pay rate hasn’t changed since Dr. Harry Spalding was mayor 20 years ago. The mayor’s salary is $1,500 a month.

Given the amount of growth of the city and the additional responsibilities the council members have taken on over the years, Heaton said he felt that it was time to have a discussion about pay raises for the council.

He called service on the council “volunteerism on steroids,” adding that for the most part, members of the council historically have been able to take time away from their jobs to attend meetings when necessary.

“Some elected officials have to take personal time without pay, they have to take vacation days and so forth in order to meet their obligations to their office,” he said.

The necessity for some electe officials to take time away from work may mean that the time will come when qualified candidates will not be able to take time away from their jobs to run for office, he said.

The City of Bardstown is unique as a city because it owns its utilities. The mayor and council oversee a $53 million budget — larger than most other cities similar in size to Bardstown.

Councilman Joe Buckman said that any discussion of raising pay needs to include that of the mayor as well because the mayor’s pay has not been raised during the same period of time.

Councilman Bill Sheckles supported raising the mayor’s pay, but did not support hiring a city administrator.

“This mayor’s position requires a lot more time than it did years ago,” Buckman said, adding that he believed Heaton spent at least 30 hours a week in his role as mayor, if not more.

RETURN OF CITY ADMINISTRATOR? Acknowledging the demands that managing the city and its many department places on the mayor’s office, Heaton said he was considering bringing up possibly hiring a city administrator.

Recalling the history of the last city administrator, Heaton said that just because the hiring choice of the last administrator didn’t work out shouldn’t reflect poorly on the benefit of having a day-to-day full-time administrator to manage the city’s operations.

The city’s different departments each have a department head, and right now, each reports to the chief executive — the mayor.

Heaton said he enjoys serving as mayor and makes the time he needs to serve, but in the future, there’s no guarantee that qualified candidates will have the same ability to maintain their day job and make time to serve as mayor.

Councilman — and former mayor — Bill Sheckles did not think highly of putting a city administrator in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city.

Constituents who elect the mayor and council want to talk to those elected officials when there’s a problem, he said.

“After they vote for the mayor of this city and the council of this city, a constituent isn’t going to want to talk to a city administrator,” Sheckles said. “They didn’t vote for a city administrator. When they want to have a situation or a problem corrected, they want to talk to the mayor.”

“I know that, you know that, and all of us who have been involved in the city know that,” he said. “It’s what the people expect.”

Sheckles said the city’s growth in recent years really means it should have a full-time mayor, and that the ultimately decision making power should remain with the mayor.

SUPPORT FOR RAISES. Councilman John Kelley said that he supported raises for the city’s elected officials. He was city attorney in March 1998 when that council approved the last raises for the council.

The magistrates on Nelson Fiscal Court receive cost-of-living increases each year, which the mayor and council do not receive, he noted.

“Every fulltime city employee makes more than the chief executive of the city,” he said.

Councilman David Dones said he agreed that he mayor’s pay should be higher, but given the budget constraints, it should be discussed in the light of financial reality.

Councilwoman Kecia Copeland said she supported making the mayor a full-time job.

“You’re putting in hours that are unheard of,” she told Heaton. “I appreciate that and the community appreciates that, but we have to responsible enough to say you deserve to be paid for the position.”

Copeland said with the decline of volunteerism, she was concerned about recruiting qualified candidates to run for a low-paying job.

INFORMATION GATHERING. Heaton said he and city hall staff would gather information on council member and mayor pay and have it to present to the council for its consideration.

Heaton also suggested the council look at how city administrators in other nearby cities have helped those cities maintain continuity in their governments as mayors and council members come and go.

The deadline to vote on salary changes is the first Monday of May.

Heaton said he would get mayor and council pay examples to the council later this week. If the council decides to move forward with raises, it will require a special meeting in order to make the deadline.

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