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Community questions whether Oxford City Council should receive pay raise

By Clint Combs, For The Miami Student

After Oxford City Council approved a 2 percent pay raise for full-time public employees Sept. 1, some community members are questioning whether council members themselves should receive pay increases.

Councilwoman Edna Southard explored this issue amid two concerns: city council hasn't given itself a raise in 15 years, and the low pay will discourage potential candidates from seeking office.

Incumbent members of city council won't benefit from a proposed council member pay increase and are exempt from the 2 percent pay increase that has already passed.

Newly elected officials can only expect a raise if a resolution is passed prior to Nov. 24, according to city manager Douglas Elliott.

Some council members feel pay is too low.

"We are all concerned about the relationship between politics and money, but we don't want an oligarchy where people can only serve our city council because they can afford to do that," said Southard. "But we also don't want to prevent people from serving our city council because they can't afford to."

The path for better benefits and pay increases is simple but controversial, Elliott said.

"It's in councilmembers' hands to decide what the pay of council is," Elliott said. "I'm not sure if it's appropriate to ask an employee what the employer should pay themselves."

Councilman Steve Snyder also feels higher salaries are unethical and shouldn't be used to entice prospective candidates. Snyder said his annual salary for public office was $900 in the 1980s.

"If you're in it for the money, I'm not sure you should be running for public office," Snyder said.

Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Katie Rousmaniere noted that public office is one of many positions where workers shouldn't be in it for the money.

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"As an educator, I'm very used to people saying teachers shouldn't be in the business for the money, and now we have a shortage of teachers," said Rousmaniere. "Oxford council members earn $3,200 a year. We are comparatively, as far as I can tell, the lowest paid of all the local municipalities."

Oxford Mayor Kevin Mckeehan believes the pay increases will prove futile, considering census data and the city's fluctuating population between the academic school years.

"I can see both sides of it," Mckeehan said. "It's been 15 years. I remember the words of [former city councilwoman] Katie Currie as she was leaving council, the salary didn't cover her childcare expenses."

About 100 fulltime employees are expected to get a pay raise. According to Oxford's human resources director Candi Thurpin, the ordinance also creates a new finance specialist position that requires expertise in accounting.

The finance specialist position is listed under "Pay Band 5" with a salary ranging from about $41,000 to $70,000 yearly, according to city documents.

Raises and benefits take effect next fiscal year. City leaders will meet five times before the Nov. 24 deadline if they decide to vote on a pay increase. City Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Oxford Municipal Court.