By REID TUCKER
It came down to a 3-2 split when put to the vote, but the DeFuniak Springs City Council ultimately voted against a 100-percent pay raise for the Council members and mayor.
Councilman Kermit Wright proposed the hotly contested motion, which would increase the annual salary of the Council members from $6,000 to $12,000 while increasing the mayor’s salary to $15,000, at the Council’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 14, the only such meeting in the month. Wright contended that the additional hours spent attending special meetings, answering phone calls from citizens, and doing extra duties, namely evaluating candidates for the vacant finance director position and previously vacant city manager position, by the Council and mayor as reasons enough to warrant the proposed salary raises.
“Our jobs as city councilmen are so much more than meeting twice a month for a couple of hours on Monday nights,” Wright said.
“True, we’re facing a 100-percent increase…but [the city] doesn’t have an employee that makes six grand a year that I know of except us. I personally think it’s silly. I believe in getting paid for what you do.”
Wright mentioned that the city of Freeport’s city councilmen and mayor make approximately the same amount annually as his proposed dollar figures. However, Mayor Pro Tempore Henry Ennis, who sat in at the meeting for Mayor Harold Carpenter, said the reason for this is that Freeport designates each of its Council members as the head of a different city department. DeFuniak Springs, on the other hand, employees a city manager to handle the day to day operation of all city departments.
Councilmen Mac Work and Ron Kelley opposed the motion. Both men agreed that each Council member currently serving on the board were aware of their salaries should they be elected to office.
“When we ran for office we knew exactly what we were going to get paid,” Work said. “We knew what the consequences were. I don’t think we need to raise [the Council’s] salaries when you’re not giving the employees that big of a raise.”
Kelley liked the idea of a raise, but could not justify the increased tax burden to citizens.
“From my standpoint, I agree that salaries are ridiculously low, but, considering the economy, I can’t in good conscience take money from the taxpayers and put it in my pocket when people are out there suffering truly,” Kelley said.
The motion met with a 2-2 split when put to the vote, with Work and Kelley going against it and Wright and Councilman Wayne Graham casting aye votes. Ennis cast the tie-breaking nay vote to put down the motion.
All other items put before the Council received unanimous votes.
City Manager Sara Bowers requested a ban on all non-professional fireworks, legal and otherwise, at the city’s Fourth of July celebration and also to make all traffic one-way only on Circle Drive, both for safety reasons. She also requested that the Council turn over the eviction of Aero FX, Inc., a renter at the Municipal Airport, to the city attorney. Aero FX requested in the form of a letter that the city sublease the maintenance hangar it uses to its subsidiary company American Cub Classics, LLC., but the Council nevertheless voted 4-0 to proceed with the eviction process.
The city’s engineering firm Baskerville-Donovan, Inc. picked up one new project for sure and possibly another as a result of straight votes from the board.
First of all, the Council gave approval for Baskerville-Donovan to come up with preliminary planning services at a cost of $12,000, invoiced monthly, for the eventual construction of a compressed natural gas fueling statio. Councilman Work, who has spearheaded the movement to have the alternative fuel station in DeFuniak Springs, reckoned that, if Walton County and the school district went along with the city’s plans to convert their fleet vehicles to run on natural gas, that combined fuel savings could reach $1 million annually. Furthermore, Work said private citizens could also make use of the station, for which they could pay roughly half price for fuel versus gasoline or diesel and pay less in taxes while simultaneously reducing the negative environment impact of burning fossil fuels.
The Council also voted 4-0 to have city staff enter into negotiations with Baskerville-Donovan for the company’s expertise in regards to the next moves at the former Walton County Health Department building, which has long been considered a potential new location for DeFuniak Springs Police Department headquarters. Interior demolition of the structure was reported by staff to have been completed as directed, but it is thought that a new roof may be required if the building is to be renovated for the DFSPD’s use.
An ordinance giving the city manager the authority to suspend a city employee with or without pay so long as that decision could be overturned by majority vote of the Council was approved for second reading. Similarly, first readings of ordinances to repeal the land development code’s Proportionate Fair Share Program on the grounds of it being unnecessarily complicated to implement and to amend the Concurrency Management section to allow for changes in the traffic impact analysis new developers are required to conduct.
Finally, the Council passed motions to authorize city staff to write letters offering voluntary annexation to property owners with land along U.S. 331 South adjacent to the city limits and another to extend the moratorium on impact fees, at least until the data from a rate study returns in a month’s time, with the option to extend the moratorium for another year. The decision whether or not to impose a moratorium on tap fees for the water and sewer system was tabled until July.