Aldermen forfeit salaries to help public services

Motion to use over $40,000 typically allocated for town's governing board to fund new full-time position passes 4-1

Fred McCormick

Black Mountain aldermen voted 4-1 April 21 to forfeit their salaries for the 2017-18 fiscal year to fund a full-time position in the street department.

Black Mountain aldermen's giving up their salaries will create a full-time position in the public services department.

Each year, heads of the town’s nine departments present budgetary requests to town manager Matt Settlemyer. Needs identified by departments can range from new vehicles to additional staffing.

For a few years running, Jamey Matthews, the town’s public services director, has requested an additional worker to keep up with the increasing demands that come with growth. Matthews' department maintains the town’s streets, parks and water administration and provides some sanitation services.

Town departments commonly ask for additional people, but finding the money for them isn't always possible, Settlemyer said.

“I have to present a balanced budget to the board,” he said. The town council will adopt a budget before the fiscal year started July 1. The board has not yet set a date for the final budget approval, but that vote typically takes place in early June.

Settlemyer relayed Matthews' requests to aldermen at the April 21 budget workshop, explaining to them that the department had 10 fewer full-time employees than it had in years past. Matthews's department has tried to do “more with less,” he said in a later interview.

Settlemyer could not balance a budget that included both capital improvements and additional positions, he said. Commending the town staff's efforts to bring in a lean budget proposal, vice mayor Ryan Stone suggested the board utilize $44,300 allocated to pay the five-member board and mayor to fund a full-time position in the street department. That money includes the mayor's proposed salary of $9,340 and the $6,342 slated for each of the five aldermen as well. The required FICA contributions for each salary also factored into the total amount.

Stone called his suggestion the “best use of the citizens’ tax dollars.”

He asked the six town council members to give up their pay because they routinely asked departments and citizens to make sacrifices for the good of the community. The motion passed 4-1, with Carlos Showers, who preferred a salary study to determine the staffing and compensation needs of the town, dissenting.

“We’re so appreciative of that (vote),” Matthews said of his department. “It blows my mind that they gave up their pay because we needed it.”

The position will significantly help the department keep up with the town's growth, he said.

"As we take over water lines, sidewalks and streets in new subdivisions, we need to remain efficient," Matthews said. "That equals more mowing, more paving, more water line repair and maintenance. But there's only so many people here."

The action taken by the board is a temporary measure for the upcoming fiscal year, according to Settlemyer.

"What the board voted to do was to put zero money in (the governing board) line item, which they can do with any line item under the annual budget ordinance" he said. "The town's charter says they can't pass an ordinance changing the salary of the board or the mayor until the end of their term. What they'll have to do next year is pass an ordinance eliminating those salaries for future boards and mayors."