Fort Smith Board approves raises for mayor, board members

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,334 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed two ordinances at its regular meeting Tuesday (Dec. 13) that will give the mayor and seven directors a 200% and 680% raise, respectively. It’s been several decades since the pay was adjusted.

The first ordinance raises the mayor’s salary from $10,000 a year to $30,000 and raises the mayor’s vehicle allowance from $450 per month to $600 per month. Total compensation for the mayor will be $37,200 annually. According to city records, the mayor’s salary was established at $5,000 in 1971, four years after Fort Smith went to a city administrator form of government, a memo from City Administrator Carl Geffken on the matter said. An increase of the mayor’s salary was approved in 1998, when it was raised to $10,000.

“This was brought before the board 10 years ago. I voted against it. I didn’t think it was necessary. I was wrong. This is long overdue. I was wrong then, we’re going to fix it today,” said Director Kevin Settle.

Director Neal Martin raised concerns about the raise, noting that while Mayor George McGill works tirelessly for the city and deserves more compensation, the raised salary would be for all future mayors.

“My concern is the mayors that come after (McGill). There is a good chance this salary will be there forever. If we have a mayor like (McGill), I’m all for it. I just think we need to be cautious,” Martin said. “This isn’t just a salary increase for Mayor George McGill.”

The ordinance was unanimously approved.

The second ordinance raises board members’ salary from $1,000 annually to $7,800 and increases the vehicle allowance from $400 to $600 per month. The new ordinance will raise each director’s yearly compensation by $9,200. The proposed compensation for directors is $15,000. The salary increase will increase the city budget by $64,400 for a total of $105,000 in director compensation annually.

City directors have not received a raise to their salary since the salary was set at $1,000 per year in 1967 when the city went to the city administrator form of government, Geffken’s memo on the matter said.

An amendment to the ordinance, proposed by Director Jared Rego, requires the raises in salary to be solely financed from the city’s general fund, while the increase in car allowance and the previous amount of the salary and car allowance to be funded, as in the past, through the budget of various city departments. Rego also introduced a motion to have the ordinance tabled until a committee could be formed to study the prospect of a raise.

“I just believe we must cautiously consider our course of action in how we choose to compensate ourselves as elected officials,” Rego said. “Why wouldn’t we want to press pause, broaden the conversation, and engage a salary review committee made up of local citizens just like what was done in 1988 when salary compensation for the mayor and board of directors was discussed.”

Rego suggested the board ask the committee to review the workload and benchmark salaries against peer cities. Then the board could consider the raise in March, which if passed would take effect in April when city employee raises go into effect. That amendment motion was defeated 2-5 with only Rego and Director Robyn Dawson voting for it.

The ordinance states that a director’s compensation will be reduced by 1/24 for each regular meeting a member does not attend. No extra compensation will be paid for attendance at any special meeting called by the board of directors.

The ordinance was passed with a vote of 5 to 2, with directors Rego and Dawson voting against it. Dawson, who recently lost her reelection bid to the board, said she could not vote for the raise unless it was stipulated that the directors had to attend all meetings, including study sessions and special meetings, including the all-day budget review hearings and strategic planning meetings.