Van Buren Council approves budget, pay raises

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Employees and elected officials in the city of Van Buren will take home a larger pay check next year after the Van Buren City Council formally approved the city's fiscal year 2014 budget and a separate ordinance dealing with elected officials' salaries.

The budget resolution passed unanimously and sets the city's expenditures at $12.078 million for the year. Included in the budget is a 1.5% cost of living pay increase for all city employees.

The separate ordinance, which also passed the Council unanimously, would raise the salaries of three elected officials – the mayor, the city clerk-treasurer and the city attorney. The mayor and clerk-treasurer's salaries were raised by 1.5%, while the city attorney's annual salary was raised by $500, or 4.17%.

According to the ordinance, the salaries for each position are set as follows:
• Mayor - $63,489.71 annually;
• City Clerk-Treasurer - $46,971.68 annually;
• City Attorney - $12,500 annually; and
• District Court Judge - $27,551.90 annually (the city's pays a portion of the judge's total salary).

Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman said the ordinance was similar to other years, giving city officials the same pay raises on a percentage basis that city employees receive.

"Whatever the cost of living raise was last year, we did the same thing," he said. "If there's no cost of living raise (for city employees), there's no cost of living raise for elected officials."

Not reflected in the salary figures for Freeman and City Clerk-Treasurer Barbie Curtis are vehicle allowances. The city provides Freeman with a $10,000 annual car allowance, while Curtis is provided a $3,000 annual car allowance. Both are also provided with a city-paid cell phone and are offered the city's health insurance, though Freeman declines the city's health insurance plan and instead is covered under a policy from Tricare for military retirees and their dependents.

"I pay my own premiums with my military (insurance). …I could take the city's health insurance as a supplement if I wanted it, but I just don't think it's the right thing for the taxpayers. So I pay my $150 out of pocket for my Tricare and use Tricare."

As for why the pay was adjusted at a different rate for the city attorney, Freeman said the position had not received a pay raise since it was restructured from a full-time position to a part-time position three years ago.

When the position was listed as full-time, Freeman recalled the salary being in the neighborhood of $55,000 annually. And even though the position is now listed as part-time, City Attorney Candice Settle-Beshears provides many services to the city, such as writing ordinances, providing legal counsel to the city and its staff, in addition to representing the city in the event of a lawsuit.

Settle-Beshears said she did not request the raise, but instead it was requested by Freeman during the course of budget discussions with the Council.

"He did say last month that mine had not been raised these last couple of years, so he made that proposal based upon that," she said. "I just appreciate the Council approving (the raise)."

Freeman was quick to point out that even though the city is doing well financially and was able to award pay raises this year, it does not mean the city is cruising on easy street.

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"We're still going to manage those resources to the best of our abilities. We'll keep moving forward."

The salary changes for city staff and elected officials take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

In other business, the Council:
• Approved a resolution to authorize the mayor to enter into a joint contract with the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce and provide financial assistance for a community economic assessment; and
• Approved an ordinance that would prevent many commercial vehicles, including any with three or more axles or weighing in excess of 16,000 pounds, from parking on residential streets and properties.

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