ashland.news
May 23, 2024

Ashland council puts pair of measures on May ballot

Councilor Paul Hyall, left, speaks as Mayor Tonya Graham listens at Tuesday's council meeting. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
February 9, 2023

Voters will be asked to approve $900 a month for councilors and mayor, allocate food and beverage tax to Parks & Recreation

By Morgan Rothborne, Rogue Valley Tribune

The Ashland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to put councilor and mayoral compensation — up to $900 per month — before voters in a May 16 special election.

“You’re like any other employee of the city. You’re just different in that you need a vote of the people to have any sort of compensation,” Doug McGeary, acting city attorney, told the council.

During the meeting, Tonya Graham — acting as council chair before she was elected mayor — offered a proposal regarding pay for councilors and the mayor. Graham calculated an average of 20 hours of work per week at a rate of $20 an hour, arriving at $900 a month for each councilor and the mayor.

Councilors and or mayor of Ashland have essentially been volunteers, Graham said. Current compensation, which was set in 1954, is set at $500 annually for the mayor and $350 annually for councilors. Inflation adjusted, that’s about $460 a month or $5,500 a year in 2022 dollars for the mayor and $320 a month or $3,860 a year in 2022 dollars for councilors.

“I love the equity piece of this conversation. It is a significant amount of time, and I recognize that not everyone has this amount of time to give to the city,” Councilor Eric Hansen said.

Councilor Eric Hansen, left, listens to City Manager Joe Lessard at Tuesday’s council meeting. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com

Until the close of last year, councilors and the mayor received a small stipend and health insurance. The health insurance benefits were revoked late last year after a legal opinion from McGeary Dec. 6, saying the cost of health insurance benefits had transformed them from a simple benefit into an illegal form of compensation.

The ensuing conversation about benefits showed that for some councilors, giving so much time with no real compensation was a hardship.

The people of Ashland voted in health insurance for councilors and the mayor nearly 70 years ago, City Manager Joe Lessard explained.

“It’s been a long time since 1954, and things have changed. If you recall back in those days, there was a very minimal cost in ‘hospital compensation’ that the city took on, but in recent years the cost (of health insurance) has grown enough to be considered compensation,” he said.

“Right around $1,700 per month, per councilor, is what the city anticipated paying this year (for health insurance), so your point around the health care coverage overtaking the actual salary is very well taken — this is a significant amount of money. But part of the conversation around this is around equity,” Graham said Tuesday.

The potential $900 monthly payment could make the difference between running for election or not for someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to set aside the time to serve, Councilor Gina DuQuenne said.

A young working person might get health insurance from a part-time job and be able to serve, and the proposed stipend would still save the city money, DuQuenne said.

“This would represent around $70,000 in savings to the city,” Councilor Paula Hyatt said.

Councilors also voted to add a referendum to the ballot to change how money from the food and beverage tax can be applied, sending nearly all of the revenue to Parks & Recreation. Currently most is set aside for road repair. If the measure passes, street repair would be funded instead out of other city accounts. Only DuQuenne opposed the measure, saying she was against the food and beverage tax itself.

Email Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rvtrib.com. This story first appeared in Rogue Valley Tribune.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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