Salem committee discusses 2018 budget

SALEM — Continued discussion over the 2018 general fund budget touched on a number of areas, including physical agility tests for police and fire personnel, adding a full-time position to the streets department, having K-9 expenses go through the city, looking at how the law director’s clerk is paid and increasing council wages.

City Council’s Finance Committee didn’t take action on all the items, pushing the law director’s clerk pay to a future meeting and inviting Law Director Brooke Zellers to attend, asking city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst to attend regarding additional street department personnel and asking city Auditor Betty Brothers to work up scenarios on both.

She was also asked to look at a way to have a fund similar to the Municipal Events fund for the K-9 expenses for more transparency.

The committee also took action on several items, agreeing to increase the donation to the Salem Memorial Building from $7,500 to $10,000 in the budget and agreeing to create a line item in the budget of $1,000 each for both the police and fire departments for physical agility tests if that’s a move that’s made.

Councilman Geoff Goll made a suggestion about having all fire and police submit to physical agility tests every three years as a means to ensure safety and fitness for duty. He prefaced the idea with the fact that the maximum age for a new firefighter was lowered over safety concerns for ability to do the job later on. He said he’s submitted a request to have the Traffic & Safety Committee look at the situation, talk to the chiefs and talk to the unions, but wanted to make sure the money was included in the budget now. Mayor John Berlin explained that both departments employ a service that provides them with best practices for policies and procedures and there’s already a section related to fitness for duty that the chiefs may employ to request someone be tested for fitness for duty.

The committee agreed to forward to city council for consideration a change in the wage ordinance to increase council pay to equal what the council clerk makes, which is $6,000 per year. Currently, council makes less than the clerk and council members haven’t seen a wage increase for 10 years, unlike other employees of the city. Berlin pointed out the clerk would not have seen a wage increase either if the pay had not been increased earlier this year as payment for additional duties related to minutes of committee meetings.

Due to a law against in-term raises, none of the current council members or the ones just elected will benefit from the wage increase if council approves it.

For the discussion regarding the law director’s clerk and the street department position, Goll requested eliminating the 29-hour salary pay for the law director’s clerk and just making the pay $12.50 per hour. Councilman Brian Whitehill, who chairs the committee, questioned if the clerk was still paid if council wasn’t active, such as when they recessed last August. According to Brothers, the clerk is paid the same amount 52 weeks per year. Berlin noted it’s no different than council getting paid when they don’t meet, suggesting the pay could be monthly, with Whitehill agreeing with a rolling average since the workload changes from month to month. Both he and the mayor said the law director should be included in the discussion, similar to having Kenst part of the discussion regarding a street department employee.

Another Finance Committee meeting is planned for Nov. 28.