By JOEL McNEECE
The Bruce Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 Monday night to give themselves a $50 a month pay raise.
The increase came after the board completed a town budget with a more than $111,000 deficit. That deficit, and this pay raise, which will cost the town slightly more than $3,000 a year after benefits are recalculated, will be covered by the estimated $200,000 cash balance the town believes it will carry forward from the current budget year.
The lone dissenting vote came from Alderman Lyn Parsons.
“I think whomever is sitting here needs more money, but we asked department heads to cut their budgets 15%,” Parsons said. “I wonder what kind of message will this send. We’ve asked them to cut as much as possible. That’s what concerns me.”
Mayor Robert Edward Oakley opened the discussion by stating he would veto the measure if it passed with only a 3-2 vote. He cited the struggling economy and the work to cut the overall budget to maximize town tax dollars as reasons he wouldn’t support the pay increase.
Alderman Johnny Armstrong questioned the mayor why he would veto any majority vote.
“Three to two is not a vote of confidence,” Oakley said. “It’s going to take a minimum of four votes.”
“Are you using this as an intimidation technique?” Alderman Gary Edwards asked the mayor. “There’s been harder things come up than this that have passed on a 3-2 vote.”
“I’m not,” Oakley responded. “It’s not a matter of pay raise or not a pay raise. Obviously, I’m outnumbered. My point is, in the economy we’re in, it’s not a laughing matter, and what we do up here spending taxpayers’ money sends a message.”
Oakley pointed out he never voted for a pay raise for the board in his two decades as an alderman.
“The raise is not important to me, but if these other gentlemen think they need it, I’m ok with it,” Alderman Steve Nelson said.
Alderman John Earl Armstrong said people have told him the board is getting “too little” for all the meetings they have.
“I’ve gotten emails and the concern is not over money,” Edwards said. “I’ve heard more talk about streets than anything.”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” Parsons said.
“I’ve had more comments about sewer,” Edwards said.
Board members pointed out that surrounding towns have raised aldermen pay in recent years.
“I just can’t vote for it when I asked Stan (Evans) to cut his budget,” Parsons said. “I can’t consciously vote for it. Y’all do what you want to do.”
Nelson asked his fellow board members how much of a raise they had in mind.
“I’d say a minimum of $50,” Alderman Gary Edwards said.
“I can go along with that,” Nelson said.
“It’s going to be frowned on if economics are good or bad,” Edwards said. “That’s the nature of the beast. You’re not going to satisfy a lot of folks.”
“I can go along with $50, but I’m not willing to double (the salary),” Nelson said.
“What’s your max if $50 is the minimum?” John Earl Armstrong asked.
“That’s it – $50,” Nelson answered.
John Earl Armstrong made the motion for the $50 per month pay raise for the board. Edwards seconded and the vote was 4-1.
“I don’t think y’all will change your mind, so there’s no need for me to veto a 4-1 vote,” Oakley said.
The board adjourned. They meet again at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6 for a public hearing on the budget.