Berlin Mayor, Council Approve Own Pay Raises; Mayor To Receive $15K (From $5K), Council Members to Get $7,500 (From $2,000)

BERLIN – The town’s mayor and council members are set to receive a raise for the first time in 25 years.

The Town of Berlin’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 includes funding to increase the mayor’s salary from $5,000 to $15,000, a 200-percent increase, and funding to raise each council member’s pay from $2,000 to $7,500, a 275-percent jump.

“The new salary levels are recommended after comparing Berlin’s salaries to other municipalities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland based on comparative population and size of budget,” Mayor Gee Williams said.

Williams said Councilman Thom Gulyas suggested a pay increase at the start of this year’s budget process, as he believed the salaries were low compared to those paid by similar towns. According to data the town was provided by the Maryland Municipal League, council members in Pocomoke City — population 4,184 — are paid $6,000 a year while the mayor is paid $7,500. In Snow Hill, which has a population of 2,103, council members are paid $1,800 and the mayor receives $2,400.

Williams said he and the town’s council members believed increasing the salaries paid by Berlin to $15,000 (mayor) and $7,500 (council) would put the town’s rates in line with those of similarly sized municipalities. Berlin’s population currently stands at 4,485.

He said the raises put forth represented just a small portion of the town’s $19.4 million budget, which also provides for a 3-percent pay increase for town employees.

As proposed, the budget maintains the current property tax rate of 68 cents per $100 of assessed value. There are no planned fee increases for water, wastewater or stormwater utilities.

The largest expense in the proposed budget is the new Berlin Police facility set to be built at the intersection of Bay Street and Decatur Street. The project, expected to cost $2.2 million, will be financed by town reserves that will be replenished during the next decade by the casino revenues the town receives.

“This new facility will serve the community for a half a century or more,” Williams said.

The budget as proposed will also include funding for two new Chevy Tahoe vehicles for the police department. Though the purchase of two Ford Interceptors was originally recommended by the police department, on Monday Gulyas suggested an extra $20,000 be allocated so that Chevy Tahoes, which cost $10,000 more than Ford Interceptors, could be purchased.

“These are much better vehicles,” he said. “A heck of a lot safer.”

Councilman Dean Burrell asked why the police department hadn’t recommended the Chevy Tahoe in the first place.

“I just wonder why we were presented a budget for a police vehicle that was not the best out there,” he said.

Police Chief Arnold Downing said the Chevy Tahoe was not available last year and that the Ford Interceptor was not a bad choice.

“The Ford is not a substandard vehicle but the Tahoe is better,” he said.

The chief added that at the start of the budget process officials had asked if the police department would be able to refrain from purchasing any vehicles.

Williams, too, said that all of the town’s department heads worked hard to keep spending to a minimum as they developed their budgets.

“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” he said.

The council also agreed during Monday’s meeting to go ahead with Gulyas’ suggestion to begin charging a $5, or 3 percent, convenience fee to customers paying their town bills with credit cards. The fee, Gulyas said, would cover the cost of the credit card processing fees charged to the town. He stressed that residents who did not want to be charged the fee could still pay with cash or check. Town staff is expected to work the change into the budget in the coming weeks.

Overall, the proposed $19.4 million budget is 13-percent higher than the current year’s spending plan. While the general fund, at $8.3 million, is 38-percent higher in the proposed budget, the majority of the town’s other funds are set to decrease. The electric budget, at $5.5 million, is 1-percent less than it was in FY 2016. The proposed budget for the town’s water fund is $1 million, which represents a 5-percent reduction over the current year’s budget. The wastewater budget will decrease 5 percent, or $128,110, in the coming fiscal year.

The town’s stormwater budget is expected to increase $30,000, or 1 percent, in FY 2017.

A public hearing on the FY 2017 budget will take place during the town council meeting on June 13.

Ocean City, with a population of 7,102, pays its mayor $30,000 and council members, $10,000. Chestertown, with a population of 5,252, pays its mayor a $5,000 salary and council members $2,000. With a population of 4,866, Fruitland gives its mayor a $2,500 salary and its council members a $1,800 salary. The mayor of Denton, with a population of 4,418, receives $3,600 while the council members earn $3,000.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.