AUBURN — How much to pay the next mayor became the subject of the Auburn Common Council’s closest vote of the year in a meeting Tuesday.

On a 3-4 vote, the council rejected an amendment proposing to freeze the mayor’s salary at $2,575 biweekly or $66,950 per year.

The council then passed an ordinance raising the mayor’s pay by 6% to $2,730.77 every two weeks, or $71,000 annually.

Councilman Mike Watson proposed the pay freeze. He said he had a hard time justifying a 6% increase for a new, incoming mayor.

Current Mayor Norm Yoder is retiring after 20 years in office. The next mayor will be either Democrat Sarah Payne or Republican Mike Ley, with the winner of the Nov. 5 election taking office Jan. 1.

Watson said the council could give the next mayor a raise for 2021 if it chooses.

Councilman Jim Finchum said he was “having a hard time reconciling the mayor getting less than the clerk-treasurer” if the mayor’s pay were frozen.

The salary ordinance passed Tuesday night will pay Clerk-Treasurer Patricia Miller $2,711 biweekly or $70,486 per year, a raise of 7.4%. Last week, the council considered an ordinance to raise Miller’s pay by 6%, but Watson succeeded with his amendment to increase it by 7.4%.

With 16 years in office, Miller is unopposed for re-election to another four-year term.

Tuesday, Councilman Matthew Kruse argued that the mayor should be paid more than the clerk-treasurer, even if the mayor is new on the job.

“The mayor’s position, regardless of who fills it, the responsibilities don’t change,” Kruse said.

“You want to get the salary so it’s representative of the job … so you can get quality people to run” for mayor, Yoder commented.

“This is not a part-time position whatsoever. It’s a more-than-full-time position for both people,” City Attorney Erik Weber added about the mayor and clerk-treasurer. He said city officials studied the salaries for mayors in cities such as Jasper, Marion and Warsaw before deciding on the proposed rate for Auburn’s mayor.

Watson and Councilmen Wayne Madden and Kevin Webb supported Watson’s pay-freeze proposal. Finchum, Kruse, Dennis Ketzenberger and Mike Walter opposed it.

The ordinance also gives council members a 3% raise to $5,274 per year in 2020.

The council passed an overall 2020 budget that gives 3% pay raises to all city employees, according to Yoder.

The $90.9 million budget includes $18.3 million for city government operations and $72.6 million for the city’s utilities, topped by $50 million for the electric utility. It compares to the current year’s budget of $86.8 million, with $17.6 million for government operations and $69.1 million for the utilities — electricity, wastewater treatment and water.

By a 2-5 vote, the council rejected Webb’s proposal to raise the hourly rate for litigation services by the city attorney. Saying the budget’s $105 per hour is too low, Webb suggested $150 instead.

Weber said he serves as attorney for a half-dozen government agencies, and his litigation rate ranges from $105 to $120. He said he views his work as a public service.

Yoder noted that the city pays Weber a retainer, which usually leads to a discounted rate for any litigation. He said Weber did not ask for an increase.

“I’m blessed to be able to contribute, and I feel like I’m being treated fairly,” Weber said.

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