By Bill Robinson
Until this month, Richmond had the highest-paid mayor and city commissioners of any second-class city in Kentucky.
Since 2008, when they stopped taking automatic pay increases, commissioners have made $29,973 a year. The mayor makes $36,296.
When the city officials get their checks for the second pay period in April, however, they will see their compensation cut nearly in half.
Commissioners’ pay will be reduced to about $15,900 annually, and the mayor’s will be about $20,500, according to Mayor Jim Barnes.
During the 2012 election, candidate Don Jaynes made an issue of mayor and commissioners’ pay, pointing out how much more Richmond’s officials make than their counterparts in other second-class cities.
According to information from the Kentucky League of Cities, only in Covington, where commissioners make $23,254, and Paducah, where they make $20,505, do commissioners make above $20,000. Covington’s mayor makes $29,107, while Paducah’s makes $22,825.
Richmond officials’ pay was unjustified, Jaynes said while campaigning, because being mayor or commissioner is a part-time job. Richmond’s size also did not justify the pay scale based on the population of comparable cities, he said.
The 2010 census listed Covington’s population as 40,640, Richmond’s as 31,364 and Paducah’s as 25,024.
In Bowling Green, with a population of 58,067, commissioners make $13,839, and the mayor makes $16,067.
Last month, Barnes said he asked City Attorney Garrett Fowles to investigate why the city’s officials made so much more than those in other cities.
Automatic pay increases began in 1989, Fowles found, when the city commission voted to increase the pay of the commissioners that would take office the following year. Future pay would rise automatically based on the consumer price index as determined by the state Department of Local Government.
In 2007, commissioners’ pay went up by about $10,200, Fowles said, but could not determine how such a hefty increase could have been construed as a cost-of-living raise.
Ordinance 89-61, which allowed the automatic pay increases, was adopted Dec. 16, 1989, with the votes of commissioners Dale Carrier, Joe Hacker and Bill Strong. Mayor Earl Baker voted no, while Commissioner Marshall McAninch abstained.
Before Jan. 1, 1990, Richmond’s mayor made $4,000, and commissioners made $3,000, Ordinance 89-61 states. The ordinance more than doubled that pay, pushing them to $11,171 and $8,378, respectively.
State law prevents local government officials from raising their pay while in office.
All future holders of the offices of Mayor and City Commissioners shall receive an annual salary based on the consumer price index as determined by the Finance and Administration Cabinet,” the ordinance states.
However, the city attorney’s research determined that the automatic pay raises had been miscalculated “for years” when the city budget was prepared, both Barnes and Fowles said.
The automatic pay raises for officials ceased in 2008 when the city suspended cost-of-living pay raises for employees, Fowles said.
The city attorney said he had not determined when or how the miscalculation began.
The city pays employees and officials twice a month, and starting with the second pay period in April, the reduced pay will be reflected in the mayor and commissioners’ checks.
Bringing officials’ pay in line with what the 1989 ordinance provided may be a bitter pill,” Barnes said, “but it’s the right thing to do.”
The commissioners were told of their new salary before the change was disclosed to the media, the mayor said. Although their pay for the remainder of their two-year terms will be substantially less than what it was when they come into office Jan. 1, the four commissioners did not object to the change, Barnes said.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 624-6690.