Mayor, aldermen considering raises for themselves

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002

[08/06/02]Vicksburg’s mayor and two aldermen say they are considering voting themselves raises to begin next month with built-in increases for the next two years.

The proposal presented Monday by South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman calls for $10,500 more for the aldermen and $12,000 more for the mayor. The three officials tabled the matter after discussing it in open session Monday and indicated they will vote Friday.

With the increases, the mayor would be paid $67,032 and the aldermen, $55,992.

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“I don’t care about the cynical people who don’t care about us as humans trying to support our families,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens. “This is an underpaid job.”

That differs from a written response Leyens made to a Vicksburg Post candidate questionnaire in the spring of 2001. “Public service should not be about personal income or economic gain. Applicants running for office understand the salary structure being offered by the community and should accept it or not run,” Leyens said in response to the questionnaire.

While Leyens said in 2001 he would not support pay increases during his administration, on Monday he said he expects to get a lot of phone calls this week.

“When I was running for office I didn’t have a clue,” Leyens said. “We manage a $50 million budget and we are a gas administrator. We’re substantially underpaid.”

Where many city and state governments allow pay for elected officials to be changed only when new terms begin, Vicksburg’s charter gives absolute authority to the elected officials themselves with no mechanism for a referendum or other protest. If approved by the board Friday, the raises will go into effect in 30 days.

During their campaigns for office last summer, Beauman and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said the mayor and aldermen positions were not paid enough, but did not mention raises or amounts.

Earlier this year, the Chamber of Commerce polled its membership about a proposal to seek a $25,000 raise for the mayor and $21,00 for the aldermen. Out of the 181 members who responded, 60 percent said they opposed the raises of those amounts suggested in the poll.

“It’s a very hard thing to sit in these chairs knowing that the only way we can get raises is to give them to ourselves,” Beauman said. But, “we felt like this was needed.”

Paul Rogers, strategic planner and former city clerk for 25 years, said lots of previous administrations had considered raises, but were reluctant to take action.

“I’ve heard from previous administrations that they didn’t want to raise the salaries because a lot of people would run for office,” Rogers said.

A major increase took place during the first administration of former Mayor Robert Walker when $10,000 raises were approved about 1990.

By 1992, the mayor was paid $51,032 a year and the aldermen, $42,391. Over the 10 years since, the board has voted for two pay increases.

The last raises were $600 a year for the aldermen and $1,000 for the mayor. Before that, the last increase was about $2,000 a year in 1994.

“We are the only board in the State of Mississippi that is a full-time board,” said Young, who is serving her third term in office.

Although both work full-time hours as aldermen, not all previous elected officials have considered the job full-time. The city charter does not specify the number of hours aldermen must work and allows them to have outside employment.

At one time, the mayor’s pay was the highest of any city employee. However, there are now several municipal employees who are paid $30,000 or more per year more than the mayor.

Vicksburg has about 500 employees and a $16 million payroll, both among the largest in the region except for major cities such as Memphis, Jackson and New Orleans.

City officials are also suggesting an automatic 2 percent raise for the mayor and aldermen at the start of the second and third year of each administration. That would mean another increase in July 2003 and July 2004.

“It would relieve future administrations from a tough, political issue,” Leyens said.

Their salaries would be capped by the city ordinance at $85,000 for the mayor and $74,000 for the aldermen.