Compensation for elected officials eliminated, sparking debate

Mayor and aldermen speak out in opposition of ordinance

Fred McCormick

A decision by Black Mountain aldermen to fund a new public works position by giving up their pay drew criticism from mayor Michael Sobol at the board’s meeting June 12.

Joining Sobol in objecting was alderman Carlos Showers. The measure passed 3-1. Voting for the change were Maggie Tuttle, Don Collins and Larry Harris (vice mayor Ryan Stone was absent). In Black Mountain's form of government, the mayor doesn't vote unless an alderman is absent and his or her vote is needed to break a tie.

The change - a permanent end to board compensation - affects aldermen elected in 2019. By its vote, the current board will vote to have its salaries applied toward the public works position in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budget years.

During a 2017-18 budget workshop in April, Stone proposed the board forgo its pay - $9,340 for mayor and $6,342 for each of the five aldermen - plus FICA contributions to create $44,300 for an extra worker in the public works department. The proposal passed 4-1. Showers, who recommended the town pursue a study to determine appropriate staffing and compensation, was the lone dissenting vote.

Black Mountain elected officials (from left) Maggie Tuttle, Don Collins, mayor Michael Sobol, Larry Harris, Ryan Stone and Carlos Showers will no longer receive compensation after voting to eliminate their annual stipends June 12.

“I strongly support the (public services) position, I want to stress that,” Showers said June 12 as he read a prepared statement. “But I strongly oppose the recommendation to discontinue salaries to pay for it.”

He reiterated his request for a study to determine staffing and salary needs and added that the board’s “strong fiscal management” in recent years had reduced debt and increased the fund balance.

“(These) actions have allowed us to work with a leaner and more citizen-friendly budget,” Showers said. “In other words, our budget is in a position to easily fund the position.”

Sobol expressed his own concerns about the decisions prior to Showers. “There is a reason for compensation," he said. "For the common man and woman, this (vote) eliminates them participating unless they just want to give up (time with) the families. You have to miss work, and that’s why you have the compensation.”

Collins defended the ordinance after Sobol and Showers spoke. “When Maggie (Tuttle) and I were elected we didn’t know there was compensation,” he said. Collins said the town has been able to put itself in “good shape” financially by being good stewards of its resources.

The town’s charter, ratified in 1911, prohibits the passing of an ordinance that changes compensation for elected officials during sitting board members’ current terms. That mandate means the existing board will have to vote during the next two fiscal years to move its compensation to the appropriate line item in the budget until the ordinance takes effect.

“That issue will arise again next year,” town manager Matt Settlemyer said. “And it will arise again in 2019.”