City Council members Thursday night debated whether the mayor and council members should receive per diem pay for meetings and appearances beyond regularly scheduled meetings.
By a 3-2 vote, members passed the first reading of an amendment to the city charter to allow such a move, but it was not without its detractors. Discussion will continue before its next agenda appearance Aug. 17.
If approved, the per diem pay likely would not extend to informational or internal meetings.
The charter authorizes a fixed monthly pay amount to the mayor and council members for performance of their duties, including attending meetings on behalf of the city.
If passed, the new ordinance would amend the charter and authorize the city to pay each $50 per diem, paid monthly, and not to exceed five meetings per month.
Mayor Mike Miller supports the measure as an incentive to city representatives to attend more public functions, as done in other cities who offer the extra pay.
Oakwood has authorized the same per diem, with a limit of 10 meetings per month. Gainesville officials receive $125 per meeting, not to exceed 10 meetings.
Miller receives $500 and council members $400 for each month served in office.
Council member Tara Richards favors the proposal, but for a different reason.
“We want to attract council members from all walks of life,” she said.
Richards is concerned some members might not be able to take the extra time, for financial reasons, and a per diem would help offset the potential loss of income.
Council member Joe Anglin adamantly opposed the measure, or any increase in compensation. He strongly reiterated that, if enacted, he would never accept additional money for his service, citing extra appearances as part of the job.
“I’m really not in favor of a per diem,” council member Fred Richards said in agreement.
Council member Damon Gibbs affirmed the first reading but noted that a budget amendment would be necessary. “There’s no funds available at this time,” he said.
All members agreed the move is to create a mechanism for potential future use. Tara Richards said that she considered its passage not potentially applicable to at least three members of the current council whose posts are up for re-election. And, if enacted, a council member could refuse the pay.
Former city council member Ed Lezaj approached council during the public comment period and vehemently opposed the proposal. He spoke of his past position as a controller in private industry and couched his comments in terms of accounting.
Lezaj supports a fixed travel and incidental expense reimbursement for members, saying it will promote greater accountability and transparency for taxpayers.
Lezaj also believes a per diem would be considered taxable income, with the potential to be abused without a validated paper trail.
“There’s also a portion of that that is your responsibility to doing your job,” Lezaj said of appearances and community meetings.
Officials were not yet able to provide a definitive answer whether a per diem would be recorded as income, subject to a W-2 inclusion.
If the charter is amended, the move would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. City attorney Ron Bennett said if the charter is not amended before election qualifying later this month, the proposal would be out of reach until January 2016.
In other council business, a first reading to fix the ad valorem tax rate and property tax levy was approved and will undergo second reading Aug. 15. If passed, the net millage rate of 2.837 mils would be levied on each $1,000 of taxable property within the corporate city limits.