Council may ask for raise

Saturday, August 8, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON -- Imagine any salary remaining unchanged for 70 years. That's what's happened for Hamilton City Council members. Although they're located in one of the Tristate's larger cities, Hamilton council members believe their salaries are smaller than those of council members in most cities their size nationwide. They're paid a flat $300 a year, the same salary their forefathers got when the city began operating under the charter in 1928.

Ten tries to raise the salary have failed.

But council intends to try again.

Council members met Friday to discuss a slate of proposed charter amendments, and they expect to vote Wednesday on whether the amendments will be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Among those amendments are measures that would affect "how government's going to work," Mayor Tom Nye said.

Those include changes in the law director's duties, civil service operations, city manager selection and the process for referendum elections.

"Unfortunately, they're probably not going to get much attention," and are likely to be overshadowed by the salary issue, Mr. Nye concedes. Under the salary proposal, council would be permitted to vote a pay increase not for themselves, but for the next group of council members who would be elected in 1999.

All seven council members are up for re-election then; the top vote-getter becomes mayor and the second-place winner is vice-mayor. The mayor's post pays about $10,200 a year, and council members say their salaries would be considerably less than that if they were allowed to vote on them.

Asked how he intended to persuade voters to say "yes" this time around, Councilman Danny Crank said, "Because it's the right thing to do.

"For people who give as much money to a community as we do, it should be better compensation," he said.

If the pay were to be increased, more people from varying walks of life probably would be willing to run for office -- and able to do so "without filing for bankruptcy," Mr. Nye said.

Five of seven council members either own or partially own their own business; none is black and only one is a woman.

Councilman Fred Southard says some people have told him they're embarrassed that a city of Hamilton's size -- about 65,000 people -- pays its elected leaders so little.

Council members, who decide how to spend a budget of about $200 million a year, say no tax increase would be needed to pay for the proposed salary increase.

"We're trying to let people know that we're just trying to update a 1928 document," Mr. Nye said.

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