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City Council Debates Pay Increases and Insurance Concerns: Budget Passes at Saturday Morning Meeting

1.75 % Cost of Living Increases and some pay raises featured in budget

Following a number of study sessions, the Greenwood City Council met Saturday morning to approve the final version of the city’s 2015 budget…not without some more serious discussion and airing of views.

As originally presented by the mayor and his staff, the budget required intense scrutinizing by the City Council to reduce the near $80,000.00 deficit it called for.  “Carry-over” funds unspent from the previous year are traditionally used to balance the income with the projected expenses.

This year, the conservative Council expressed concerns about going into cash reserves to balance the budget. According to the city’s Finance Director Ann Eglinsdorfer, those funds amount to some $468,000.00 at this time. Budgeting for numerous pay raises was stricken by the Council.

The $9.8 million dollar budget allows for pay raises for the Mayor, the Mayor’s Assistant, the Fire Chief and the City Council. The City Council last received a pay increase in 2006. With the increase, the pay for each Greenwood City Councilman is approximately $273.00 per month.

After a suggestion by conservative Councilman A.C. Brown that the cost of living increase be only 1% and not 1.75%, the council batted around the issue of the pay increases for only a few employees.  The stated criticism of handing out significant salary increases for only those few received an ovation from a dozen or so employees in attendance.

Some councilmen felt that the mayor’s salary should be consistent with that of other towns similar in size. Councilman Tim Terry contended that the salary is for the position and not the person. “Someone should run for mayor to serve-not for the salary regardless of what other towns pay” said Terry.

Mayor Kinslow, at one point, offered to decline the pay raise until he has proven himself for the office. Kinslow was elected in November, defeating ex-mayor Gary Campbell. Kinslow won the position temporarily last summer to fill the unexpired term of then mayor Delmer Gabbard who resigned suddenly-and not in person-for personal reasons.

Kinslow and his staff presented the budget Saturday with the salary increases in it for himself and for his Assistant who also got a significant pay increase last year. The Mayor and Council justified that action based on the new title for the position -“Executive Assistant” and with a new job description, though the job was not advertised as an opening, merely a  change of title and change of duties and change of salary.

It has been over ten years since the mayor’s salary has had an increase. Previous mayors have not presented a budget with any pay increase for the mayor and have also declined the idea when proffered by the Council during budget discussions.

Greenwood’s first fulltime Fire Chief, Stewart Bryan was appointed to that position in late 2007. The budget at that time did not allow for much of a salary and the City Council has gradually inched the salary to the level of most of the other city department heads.

Some items were taken out of the budget including monies for grant research and writing program. This would aid the city in the acquisition of grant money and navigating the intricacies of obtaining grants. Part of that role is being filled by the city’s lobbyist-former Sebastian County Sheriff Gary Grimes. Grimes is spending considerable time now in the state capitol as the 90th General Assembly is in session and Greenwood hopes to see money flowing this way from the legislature and various agencies and departments of state government.

Following lengthy debate about salary increases, City Councilman Lee Johnson announced that he would not vote for a budget that called for increases in pay for the City Councilmen.

Before the vote, City Councilman Rod Powell expressed concerns over the expenses incurred in offering insurance coverage to the spouses and families of city employees.

The City’s insurance program is handled through BHC (formerly Brown-Hillar-Clark) of Fort Smith. City employees are covered with a 90/10 benefit and a $500.00 deductible. Attempts to modify that program have met resistance by city employees. On the City payroll are those employees of the Parks Commission and newly created Water Commission. Both of those commissions remove employees and projects from the control of the mayor.  The Parks Commission was created during the Gabbard administration as council was concerned about Gabbard’s vocal criticisms of the department and its valuable assets. The Water Commission was created by the council while Kinslow was serving as temporary mayor. Those commissions remove water and parks from the mayor’s authority over operations, hiring and daily supervision.

At just before noon at the Saturday morning meeting, the motion was made and seconded to adopt the budget as modified including salary increases for the Mayor, the Mayor’s “Executive Assistant,” the Fire Chief and the City Council as well as a 1.75% cost of living raise for all city employees. The vote to adopt the budget was 4 to 1. Councilman Lee Johnson voted “no” and City Councilman Trey Burgess was unavailable for the meeting-still recovering from a recent surgery.

 

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