|Cold Spring conducted its April 27 meeting live online in keeping with social distancing requirements. The agenda included a vote on future council and mayor compensation.|
By Robin Gee, city council beat editor
At its April 27 meeting, Cold Spring city council voted three to three to increase pay for the next incoming city council and mayor. Because of the tie, Mayor Angelo Penque added his vote in favor, passing the amendment to the city code of ordinances that would increase annual compensation.
The pay increase will not go into effect until after the next elections for council (2022) and mayor (2023). The increase will be $400 a year for each council member, taking them from $2,000 per year to $2,400. Compensation for the next mayor will go from $6,500 per year to $10,000 per year.
A time crunch for citiesEach year, the Kentucky Department of Local Government sets the maximum rate of compensation for city officials, adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index, typically sharing that information in February.
The way the process works offers a short timeline for consideration, often catching city leaders off guard. Any new rate of pay must be set by May 1 in the year that the officer would be elected and cannot be changed during the officer’s term in office (except for cost of living). For many city councils, a first reading would happen in March and a second reading in April.
The maximum allowable compensation set by the state this year is $77,624 for council members, and for mayors, the maximum is $129,374. According to Kentucky League of Cities data, in Northern Kentucky (for those cities who reported information to the organization), the average compensation for mayors is $10,546 per year (16 cities reporting) and $5,487 a year for city council members (17 cities reporting).
Decision sparks controversy and discussion on social mediaThe pay increase for the city was not without controversy. Council members Paul Kloeker, Christopher Ampfer and Lisa Cavanaugh voted in favor of the amendment, with Cindy Moore, Michael Ruscher and Adam Sandfoss voting against.
Ruscher said he felt the mayor’s compensation should be decided at a later date. There would be time for the next elected city council before the next mayoral election in 2023. Moore objected to the raise siting concerns about an increase at a time of uncertainty during the pandemic crisis.
Those who spoke in favor of the increase noted that the city has not increased elected officials’ compensation in several years and that the increase was moderate and appropriate.
Council member Kloeker noted that the issue of compensation had been under consideration for a few years since the council had not had an increase in over a decade. "We did a study two years ago where we looked at municipalities across the whole region, and at the time we decided a moderate increase would put us in line with similar cities of our size."
After the vote passed, Moore voiced her concerns on social media, prompting response from the mayor and other council members. Penque posted a letter in response on the city of Cold Spring Facebook page. At issue was the mayor’s deciding vote. He noted that the pay increase would be applied until the next mayoral election in 2023.
The issue of council compensation in nearby citiesOther local governments also have considered the increase. Alexandria city council discussed the matter briefly in February but did not vote on an increase. At the time, Mayor Andy Schabell encouraged his city council to consider the issue, "I have a full-time job so I’m relying on you all a lot. There’s no way I could do this alone, so I am not opposed giving you a raise...it’s something to think about."
Fort Thomas city council, which has one of the lowest rates of compensation in the region, also considered the issue and even discussed reducing council pay to zero, but decided to leave council compensation as it was at $600 a year for the mayor and $72 per year for council members.