Madison Heights City Council receives raise

Council members split on whether raise is appropriate

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 23, 2015

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The mayor, mayor pro tem and members of the Madison Heights City Council will be receiving raises in January 2016 and January 2017, but they have mixed feelings on the matter. Several members of City Council, including the mayor and mayor pro tem, tried to pass a substitute motion rejecting the raise, but ultimately the raise went through.

Mayor Brian Hartwell and council members David Soltis and Richard Clark followed the lead of Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss and voted to reject the raise.

“Yes, I personally need the money, but the city needs it more,” Hartwell said in an email following the meeting. He noted that Clark plans to donate his raise back to the city, and he said he’ll do the same. “My message to my council colleagues was to remember the phrase ‘penny wise, pound foolish.’ I’ll continue to search for savings and other ways the City Council can give back.”

Starting Jan. 14, 2016, the mayor’s annual salary of $8,687 will increase by 2 percent to $8,861. Then, on Jan. 14, 2017, it will increase by 1 percent to $8,950.

For the mayor pro tem, the annual salary of $6,696 will increase by 2 percent to $6,830 on Jan. 14, 2016, and then by 1 percent to $6,898 on Jan. 14, 2017.

And for the remaining council members, the annual salary of $6,086 will increase by 2 percent to $6,208 on Jan. 14, 2016, and then by 1 percent to $6,270 on Jan. 16, 2017.

These increases were determined by the Elected Officials Compensation Commission at its meeting Dec. 1, and considered by City Council during its meeting Dec. 14.

According to Ordinance No. 454 of 1972, the commission determines the salaries of elected officials in the city, but a super-majority of mayor and council can reject any changes. A super-majority would be at least two-thirds of the mayor and council, so in this case, five members or more. This is different from a simple majority, where only four votes would be needed.

Bliss’ substitute motion to reject the raise came up short of a super-majority at only four votes. Then, in a separate vote to receive and file the salary increase proposed by the commission, the same four people voted against it, once again coming up short of a super-majority.

Only three council members approved the raise: Robert Corbett, Margene Scott and Bob Gettings, all of whom were recently re-elected in the November election, where they ran unopposed.

“If we look across the board, employees sacrificed, and council took a cut on that — I know I did when I was on for a couple years,” Gettings said during the meeting, referring to past cuts to salaries and how all bargaining units in the city will be receiving small raises in 2016.

“I just think we should receive and file, and then if a council person wants to donate and give back, they’re able to do so at their own discretion,” Gettings said. “It should be an individual decision.”

Corbett said he simply prefers to follow the Elected Officials Compensation Commission since its whole purpose is to take the politics out of setting salaries. He served on the commission for about 15 years prior to serving on City Council, and he said he would respect its decision regardless of whether it was a raise or a reduction.

“I think what guided (the commission) was they heard we gave an increase to the employees, so they probably just decided to mimic that as far as step increases,” Corbett said in an interview following the meeting. “Council attends a lot of public and charitable events. We’re always the first ones to donate to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and so on. So I think to a certain extent, they looked at it as reimbursing some of the expenses that were coming out of the members’ pockets.

“And going back to when I was on the commission,” Corbett continued, “we realized that nobody was rich at the council table, and they’re all digging into their pockets on behalf of the community. So we’re also trying to make sure the average person can serve on that job and no one will be priced out of it.”

For Bliss, who made the substitute motion to reject the raise, his primary concern was how the money could be spent elsewhere. The council was prioritizing its goals for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which helped put into perspective what else the same money could accomplish.  

“There are a dozen items on our goal sheet right now with the projected cost this (raise) would encompass over the next two years,” Bliss noted. “We can always revisit the raise down the road, but I would vote to outright turn it down and apply that budgeted money toward one of our goals.”

He elaborated on his views in an interview after the meeting.

“I’m not opposed to the philosophy behind an incremental raise,” he said. “It’s been some years since there has been a change in council salary — it’s been frozen through the economic downturn and recession. But even though I can get behind the philosophical argument, it’s difficult when staring at things we want to accomplish and I know I can knock one of them off the list with this amount of money on the budget.”