Mayor, alderman expected to OK raises on Friday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2002

[08/08/02]After a meeting Wednesday, it appears Mayor Laurence Leyens will be getting a $13,468 raise via a board vote expected Friday.

The increased amount essentially splits the difference between proposal South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman made Monday and Leyens’ statement on Tuesday that he should be paid at least $80,000.

The three elected officials, authorized in the Vicksburg’s charter to set their own pay, met with the city attorney, strategic planner and head of human resources Wednesday and instructed the city attorney to draw up an amendment to the city ordinance.

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If approved as expected in the next board meeting, it will set Leyens’ salary at $70,000 and the two aldermen’s up by $10,500 each to $56,000.

The increases are the largest in the city’s history.

“I still think it’s too low, but I’m going to support whatever you want,” Leyens told the aldermen.

Beauman had proposed increasing all three salaries by $10,500, which would have taken the mayor’s to $67,032.

Instead, at $70,000, Leyens will be the fourth highest-paid mayor in the state behind Jackson, Biloxi and Hattiesburg. The salary is equal to what the mayor of Southaven is paid.

Although City Hall has had fewer phone calls about the proposed pay increases than were expected, not everyone agrees with the mayor and aldermen voting raises for themselves.

“No one in public office should be able to vote himself a pay raise,” said Bill Smollen, owner of a local tour home. “They should only be able to raise the salary for the next administration.” That was the case in Jackson where council members voted early last year to increase the mayor’s pay from $60,000 per year to $120,000 per year but made it effective after municipal elections.

But, Beauman, serving his first term in an elected post, said he disagrees with that approach.

“I don’t think you should vote the next board a raise because you don’t know what they are capable of,” he said.

City resident Gregg Phillips said he also objects to the amount proposed by the mayor and aldermen.

“I have no idea why Vicksburg would tolerate an elected official giving himself a 24 percent raise,” Phillips said. “The average wage increase nationally is a fraction of this number.”

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, who has spent more time on the city board than either of her counterparts, had proposed increasing their pay over the next three years of their administration.

“I’m uncomfortable about doing it all at one time,” Young said.

Beauman said his suggestions were based on salaries from cities around the state and the Vicksburg Warren School District. A study of regional cities with similar populations indicated an average mayor’s salary of $62,250.

The proposed pay for the aldermen was set at 20 percent less than the mayor’s.

Leyens also suggested tying the salaries to sales tax collections within the municipal limits. According to the Mississippi Tax Commission, sales tax collection in Vicksburg is up slightly from the last fiscal year.

As of June, $36.2 million in sales tax was collected in the city since July 1, 2001. Leyens has said his pay should be similar to the mayor of Southaven where tax collection for that same period was $36.8 million.

Since taking office in 2001, the administration has put in place new pay schedules for police and fire personnel as well as enacting tiered tables for all other city employees. The compensation levels are at or near the highest in the state and, although down from last year, at about 500 people on payrolls, Vicksburg has more employees per capita than most American cities.

“We did something that was rational and that’s what we did for the employees and we should be paid appropriately, too,” Leyens said.

City officials are also suggesting an automatic 2 percent raise for the mayor and aldermen. That would mean another increase in July 2003.

Beginning with the next administration, which takes office in 2005, the mayor and aldermen’s salaries would increase the second and third year of their terms. Their salaries would be capped by the city ordinance at $85,000 for the mayor and $74,000 for the aldermen.

“If things should change, the casinos left or something, then the mayor and aldermen should be willing to cut their salaries,” Beauman said.