Council to consider asking voters for raise
by G. Sam Piatt
PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth City Council will hold a regular session Thursday night with two important items set to see the light of day.
Council is meeting on Thursday because Monday is Memorial Day. Council will also bring forward a charter amendment which would, if passed by voters in the November election, give members of City Council a raise, but eliminate them from the city’s health insurance plan unless they wanted to pay for that premium out of their own pockets.
Council members would get a raise from the current $600 a year to $5,000 and a raise from $1,000 to $6,000 for the Council president, currently Steve Sturgill of the city’s Sixth Ward.
While it would raise salaries, it would eliminate the Council’s city-paid health insurance. Embedded within the amended Section 6, titled “Salary of Council Members and President of Council” is this critical wording:
“Council members and the President of Council/Mayor may, from their salary, pay for city-sponsored health insurance or make other arrangements.”
The current city health insurance costs the city $6,002.52 per year for single coverage and $16,506.84 per year for family coverage, paying members of council $5,000 (and one at $6,000) per year, which First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson said would amount a substantial savings, especially considering the fact that city health insurance costs have been increasing at an overall average of 15 percent per year. Had that item not been on the “consent agenda,” it would have been given a first reading, which would have given citizens three meetings to form an opinion on the legislation.
While it is more of a formality than a possible controversial item, Council will also look at raising sanitation rates for the first time since 2008.
Portsmouth Mayor David Malone said the city currently has 7,471 active sanitation accounts and the present rates are $13.86 per month for non-seniors. That rate would go to $14.97 per month. The current $10.59 for seniors would raise to $11.44 per month. The current rate of $12.19 for others (PMHA,etc.) would go up to $13.17.
Malone said the increase in rates would generate approximately $93,000 in addition revenue per year for use in the sanitation department. That revenue, Malone said, would be used for maintaining existing equipment and the purchase of trucks and tipper cans.
In January, residents of Portsmouth opened their water and sewer bills to find their rates had gone up. Malone announced at the time that water rates had gone up three percent as had sewer rates. The sewer rate increase followed a 10 percent increase the year before. That item is listed on the agenda as a first reading.
Johnson said he also intends to bring five other charter changes to Council for ballot consideration, items that were tabled by Council in December of 2012 because placing them on the May ballot would have cost the city a considerable amount of money.
Those items include amendments to Sections 31, 32, 41, 42, and 144.
“What these are linked to are terminology being used. There were some misspellings,” Johnson said.
Johnson cited the word “therefore,” which is spelled “therefor” in the charter.
“The biggest one is providing a residency requirement for the Auditor and the Solicitor,” Johnson said. “Right now there isn’t one. It would require that they have a one-year residency and actually live in the city of Portsmouth.”
Another deals with the job description for Mayor and, beginning in 2014, the City Manager.
“It updates their responsibilities to include collective bargaining,” Johnson said.
Council will also, most likely, choose someone to fill the unexpired term of Third Ward Councilman Nick Basham who resigned at the last Council meeting. Council is expected to make a choice between Jeff Burchett and Kevin E. Johnson.
City Council will meet again on Thursday, June 6, because on the regularly scheduled meeting date of June 10 the City Clerk’s office will be emptied into Council chambers for work to be done in that office.
“They’re basically going to paint. They’re going to put me in a new floor and a new ceiling,” City Clerk Diana Ratliff said.
The City Clerk’s office has suffered from disrepair so long that former City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh had to hang plastic in that office to catch debris falling from the ceiling.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at email@example.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.
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