The seven members of Emmaus Borough Council are considering giving themselves a $600-a-year pay raise, but it would not begin until 2014.
Council members acknowledged that’s being done deliberately, so the pay increase does not become an election year issue in 2013.
Council members Brent Labenberg, Wesley Barrett and Michael Waddell must run for re-election in 2013, because their terms will expire at the end of next year. “If we vote it in now, they have to be re-elected to receive it,” explained council vice president Brian Holtzhafer.
Council members have been getting paid $2,001 a year since 1976 – 36 years -- said Holtzhafer, who chairs its budget and finance committee.
“No one knows why that one dollar is there,” he said.
Holtzhafer said council may vote to raise that to $2,601 a year -- an additional $50 a month for member.
He said council president Lee Ann Gilbert gets $2,401, $400 more than the other six council members. “She’ll go to $3,001.”
While the public might assume elected council members work for free, Holtzhafer said: “All borough councils are paid throughout the state.”
Emmaus manager Shane Pepe said boroughs with populations of 10,000 or more can pay council members up to $3,250 a year, according to the Pennsylvania Borough Code. He said Emmaus has about 11,400 residents.
The proposed pay increase was listed as an action item on the agenda of
council’s Monday night meeting, but no action was taken on it.
It was unclear why council did not discuss it during the meeting and when it will vote on the proposal.
After the meeting, Holtzhafer said it was not necessary to take action Monday because the proposed increase won’t take effect until 2014. He said an ordinance has to be written to change the pay. But Pepe said it could be voted on at council’s next meeting. Gilbert said it will be included in the 2013 budget, but effective in 2014.
“We don’t want the people who are running for election next year to necessarily feel like they are driving it,” said Holtzhafer.
At the beginning of the meeting, Lynn Donches, an Emmaus resident who serves on the East Penn School Board, appealed to borough council “to reconsider this proposal and forego any increases.”
“In a time when municipalities, including Emmaus, are struggling to balance the budget, this money could be applied to another line item that is a need and not a want,” said Donches.
After the meeting, Donches said East Penn School Board members don’t get paid.
She told council members she does appreciate the work they do, adding: “I have a really good idea of how much time you spend preparing for meetings and I have a pretty good idea of how hard you work.”
But she added: “The position is one you volunteered for. Everyone here chose to be a public servant. Public service is that: a service. I ask you to vote against this proposal to give the raises.” She also suggested putting it to a referendum so Emmaus voters can decide whether to give council members more pay.
Donches noted that, according to Wednesday’s agenda, council intended to eliminate three of its 2013 public meetings – in June, July and August. She argued doing that “in essence” would constitute an increase in pay, because members would have less work to do.
After the meeting, Barrett said each council member puts in an average of 20-30 hours a month.
During the meeting, Barrett asked Donches what year she started working. She declined to answer, saying: “I don’t know what that has to do with this. I don’t want to tell you that. You’ll know how old I am.” But she then acknowledged to him that she started working before 1976. He asked if she would be satisfied making exactly the same salary she made in 1976.
“But this is a public service,” Donches said again She added many people serve on boards, committees and commissions without receiving any compensation.
Another resident, Marshall Rau, told council: “As a taxpayer, I have no problem whatsoever with this pay increase.” He said council members have done a fine job and should be paid accordingly.
Also during the meeting, council unanimously did agree to schedule only one public meeting a month in June, July and August 2013. This year council held only one meeting in July and one in August. The first of two meetings scheduled in June, July and August of 2013 will be eliminated.
During the meeting, Gilbert announced the annual community tree-lighting ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 1 in Triangle Park. The program is the highpoint of the annual Old-Fashioned Christmas celebration organized by Emmaus Main Street Partners that day.
On another holiday note, Bob Boehmer, chairman of the Emmaus Arts Commission, shared with council his latest Emmaus holiday painting that again is being used to create holiday cards. He said it is the eighth painting in the series. All the paintings are hanging in Emmaus Town Hall.
Boehmer said he focused on “a hidden treasure of Emmaus” this year. The scene depicts the borough’s Remembrance Garden with the historical Knauss Homestead in the distance.
The cards, which are blank inside, will be sold (10 for $12) in stores throughout the town as a fund-raiser for the arts commission.