Council members cold to increased compensation

Council members passed a first reading of a $7.99 million general fund budget at Tuesday’s meeting but seemed reluctant to consider any compensation increase for themselves.

Councilman Dave Haw continued his solo effort to increase compensation for council members and for council president.

‘We’re starting to give out raises for employees and we took a pay cut a few years ago,” he said during the Bellefontaine City Council’s Finance Committee meeting. “We’ve held off long enough. It’s time to take care of this job.”

He passionately believes the job deserves more respect and adding to the $4,600 annual pay would be a step in the right direction.

City Auditor Jack Reser suggested the city look at a stipend account for expenses such as computer and communication costs. Then it would be up to the individual council members to decide if they wanted to file for reimbursement, he said.

Mr. Haw liked the idea.

Law Director Howard Traul II said he will look into the matter and compose legislation for the next meeting on Dec. 10.

But it may not pass council muster.

Councilman Jerry Pitzer said he is not comfortable with any increases in council compensation.

“It feels bad to me to raise our wages while we fight our department heads tooth and nail over their requests,” he said.

The temporary budget is essentially flat thus far.

There have been adjustments in personnel costs for the police and fire departments as employees are shifted from grants, or out of the ambulance fund.

A position of code enforcement officer has been added to the general fund and economic development has received $10,000 more, bringing the city’s share to $40,000 a year.

There are no wage increases yet in the budget and health insurance costs grew just five percent.

Overall, the temporary budget accounts for $22 million for all city operations.

A permanent budget should be ready by the first meeting in February. It has to be in place by the end of March.

In other action, council members approved a first reading to acquire the former Camp Myeerah.

Bellefontaine will not pay a dime for the 450-acre site under a plan in which the Tri-Moraine Audubon Society and the Trust for Public Land purchases the property from the Girl Scouts of America for $1.5 million, then gives it to the city.

The GSA wants to make sure the land at 7405 State Route 540 remains open to the public and available for rental use by Girl Scout troops.

Once in the city’s hands, the Joint Recreation Board of Trustees will operate the facility under a conservation easement with the Audubon Society.

Parks Superintendent Kris Myers said a committee will set a master plan for the property and then review any improvements such as new trails or building projects so the changes conform with the master plan.

Operational costs will be covered by user fees and fundraising projects. Mr. Myers said the Audubon group has started to line up donors for the camp.