GARRETT — Following a lengthy discussion, the Garrett Common Council Tuesday adopted an ordinance providing recently re-elected Mayor Todd Fiandt a full-time salary of $60,840.
A measure presented at the council’s Nov. 19 session, changing the position of mayor from part-time to full-time with an annual salary of $64,090, was tabled following a 2-2 tie vote. The tie occurred because Councilman Dave Demske was not present for the meeting. Fiandt’s part-time salary this year was $38,056.
All council members present at the Nov. 19 meeting said they agree the mayor’s job definitely should be full-time. At that meeting, Councilwoman Amanda Charles said “the dollar amount is what bothers me,” saying the proposed salary is higher than in cities of the same size and offering comparisons to salaries for full-time mayors in cities of similar size.
“I think the ($50,000’s range) is acceptable. It’s going a little high for the first time taking it up to full-time pay,” Charles said at the Nov. 19 meeting. She was not present at Tuesday's meeting.
Tuesday, council members and City Planner Milton Otero provided salary comparisons with other municipalities.
Otero’s chart showed salaries based on population. Councilman Brad Stump presented three comparisons with 43 cities, based on city population, assessed property valuation and community size. Based on population, he showed an average annual salary of $53,002. Based on assessed value, he averaged a salary of $45,281, and based on size in square miles, he presented an average salary of $48,195.
Councilman Tom Kleeman said he researched cities with populations of 5,000-7,000 and found the average to be $62,000 in 2020 dollars.
“To me, $64,090 is fair,” Kleeman said.
Councilman Dave Demske questioned why the council members were in such disagreement about the salary and the resulting lengthy discussion, as each was presented the salary range at previous budget meetings.
Stump said although the amount was in the budget, the city is under no obligation to pay that amount, and he questioned the 11th-hour presentation of the ordinance for elected officials after the Nov. 5 election.
Clerk-Treasurer Marcie Conkle said the matter had been brought up at previous meetings. She said the reason for the delay was due to a pending question with the state regarding if the position of mayor could be reverted to part-time in the future, if that became an issue.
Demske pointed out the Garrett mayor’s position includes oversight of the city’s electric, water and wastewater utilities, where other city leaders have only one or two utilities, if any. Other mayors also have assistants on the payroll, where Garrett does not.
“Going forward with a higher figure will make it a more competitive and attractive position,” Demske said of the mayor’s office.
“I don’t disagree that $64,000 is high, but I don’t think $60,000 is out of line,” said Councilman Todd Sattison.
In other business Tuesday, Keyser Township Trustee Mike Lilly and a member of the Garrett-Keyser Township Fire Territory Board reported the Town of Altona owes the territory $16,500 in unpaid fire protection fees.
While Altona has the funds to pay the bill, a question arose of whether the town’s annual contracts with the territory to provide protection had ever been signed. Altona is not a member of the fire territory, but contracts with the fire territory for coverage.
Lilly said the fire department has no inclination to let any property in Altona burn down, but he sees the unpaid fees dating back to 2018 as money needed to purchase new radios at an estimated cost of $108,000, with “a portion sitting in the coffers over at Altona.”
Lilly claimed no one (from the city) wanted to get the money due them, which was challenged by Conkle, who said her job was to present the information to the fire chief and fire territory board. “I cannot force them to pay” in her capacity as clerk-treasurer, Conkle said, adding she provided the information to the fire chief again a couple of weeks ago.
Fiandt said Fire Chief Ted Christensen has presented only one report to the Board of Works or the City Council since March.
City Attorney Dan Brinkerhoff said the issue will be on the agenda at the fire territory’s scheduled session in a couple of weeks.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, Stump, who did not run for re-election, thanked the city and residents for “the privilege of serving them for the past 12 years,” apologized for mistakes, thanked those who provided guidance along the way, specifically Otero, and wished everyone the best of luck in the future. He will not be in attendance at the Dec. 17 meeting, the last scheduled council meeting of the year.