ALPENA -During Monday's Alpena Municipal Council meeting, council voted to accept a recommendation from the compensation committee that would give Mayor Matt Waligora and the four council members a slight wage hike. The committee also decided to move forward with a flat wage, which will eliminate per diem for meetings.
Even with the 3 percent wage increase, the wages are still lower than they were in 2010 and 2011 when wages and meeting pay were higher. The committee recommended Waligora earn $6,000 in 2014 and $6,500 in 2016. Council members will make $4,000 and $4,500 for the same time frame. Waligora said the last several times the committee has made a recommendation for an increase in pay, the council voted it down. He said he believes the new wage scale will help stabilize compensation for a few years at least.
"The wages have been all over the map and this should make it easier because it is a flat wage," Waligora said. "It will be easier to budget for and I think we are all responsible enough to go to the meetings we are required to go to, because we are still getting paid for them."
Councilman Sam Eiler said the compensation committee had become frustrated the last several years because the council had declined to accept an increase. He said times are somewhat different now and he felt more comfortable approving the small increase. He said if the council were to keep going against the committee's opinion, the people on it would begin to feel as if their hard work was in vain.
"These are bright people who do this for nothing. The first time we took a 10 percent cut and then a 50 percent cut. At that time I didn't feel like it was appropriate. Now I feel the time is right," Eiler said.
In 2013 Waligora was paid $2,637, including meeting pay. Shawn Sexton made the most of the rest of the council with $2,518. In 2012 Waligora made $4,308 and Sexton made $3,290. Sexton said when all of the numbers are looked at, the increase is very small and for some there is a decline from several years ago. He said he thinks removing meeting pay will have little effect on council attendance, as all are committed to doing what is best for Alpena.
"It is really more about how we are being paid, than it is how much we are being paid," Sexton said. "Being paid by the meeting was a good form of transparency, but with the current council we have I don't think attendance will become an issue."
Susan Nielsen said the change in how council is paid will make tracking meetings and payroll easier for the staff. She said she believes for most on council it is not about the money.
"If money is the reason for doing this job, you better find a different job," Nielsen said. "This is a job of service and if you don't look at it that way you won't be able to do the job the way the people deserve."
Councilman Mike Nowak said the compensation committee was not pleased at how council had gone against the recommendations the last two years. He said it has worked hard for the city and because the recommendation placed a cap on potential earnings, he was for it.
"I struggled with this for some time because we are not back to having a strong foothold on finances," Nowak said. "Some members of the committee, however, have questioned if the committee was even relevant and at least there is a cap that can't be gone over, no matter how many meetings you attend. Most of the council goes to the meetings and didn't turn in the paperwork to get paid for many of them. If you look at 2011 and 2014 it is still going to be less."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com