Council passes retirement, health benefits amendment
by Robert Joseph Baker | May 18, 2016 5:36 am
Last Updated: May 18, 2016 at 6:13 am
Manning City Council voted Monday night during its regular monthly meeting to approve an ordinance amendment that will allow the city to provide health insurance and retirement benefits beginning in spring 2018.
“The state insurance allows city council to have insurance and retirement benefits as they are treated as full-time employees,” said Manning Administrator Scott Tanner. “With that said, we have to modify our ordinance to allow the city to offer this to them and pay the employer portion of it.”
Tanner said the ordinance is written to not take effect until after the next election in April 2018.
“With falling under council compensation, they are allowed to vote, but whatever they decide may only take effect after the next council is elected,” Tanner said.
Local businessman and Clarendon County Chamber President Pro Prothro challenged the amendment to the city’s existing ordinance, saying he didn’t understand the “timing” of the proposed change.
“I know that legally you have every right to do this; I know the Municipal Association is asking you to clean this stuff up likely,” Prothro said. “But timing is important. What you are approving today can’t go into effect until two years from now. You don’t know where you’re going to be in two years. You don’t know what the cost is going to be in two years.”
Prothro said he had no problem with council members getting paid for their time.
“People should get paid for their time,” he said. “I just don’t see why this can’t be tabled until January 2018 when you have more statistical data on the healthcare cost. I just think it’s extremely excessive to do this now.”
Art Lambert quoted from council’s own Rules of Procedure, saying “elected officials should not fix their own wages or benefits during their immediate term of office (and) officials should not have a financial interest in or vote on a matter where the elected officials’ primary interest is especially affected.”
“I feel like this is a conflict of interest; I realize that you have the power to do this,” he said. “I’m just not sure it’s appropriate. I would like for you to take a second look at this.”
Lambert asked when “this healthcare for council members was brought up for discussion.”
“I can’t find any record of it; I’ve gone through the minutes,” he said. “When was this first discussed?”
Finally, Lambert asked if it shouldn’t be a referendum so that people could vote on the matter.
Mayor Julia Nelson, during the Mayor’s Report, said that the reason council was taking up the ordinance in 2016 “to offer fringe benefits to be paid by the city is per the rules of the Municipal Association.”
“This has to be approved by the next election,” she said.
As for the funding, Nelson said that the ordinance can be amended if such funding is not there.
“Common sense tells anyone that if money’s not there, it can’t be done,” she said. “Any ordinance can be amended at any time by the sitting council.”
She also said that council’s action is legal.
“Actions like this have been decided before,” she said. “As for wages, I can’t remember the last time council received a raise.”
Tanner said council last received a raise in 2010 under former Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“And I don’t remember the comments we have now being made publicly then,” Nelson said.
Nelson also said residents had pointed to an issue in Lee County where a public official there had been reprimanded for using his authority to give himself financial benefits.
In that instance, however, the official voted to give himself the monetary amount of the benefit since he was already on his wife’s state insurance.
“He wanted the money in that instance,” Nelson said. “We’re not trying to do anything like that. This is just to come in line with the Municipal Association.”
Nelson said she was curious about the attention the issue has gotten and pointed toward other public entities she said haven’t seen as much scrutiny.
“Right now, we have very little knowledge about what’s going on with the hospital and the debt,” she said. “Decisions are being made by an appointed board, not an elected board, to sell our hospital due to this debt. No one seems concerned about that.”
Clarendon Memorial Hospital interim CEO and CFO Paul Schumacher said Tuesday that the hospital is “most definitely not for sale.”
“We are in affiliation talks with McLeod Regional Medical Center at this time, but we are not for sale,” Schumacher said. “Due to our political subdivision status, it would be very difficult for the hospital to ever be sold. There can’t just be a contract written to sell the hospital.”
Nelson also suggested that council “diversify our banking.”
“The idea that there are people that work in local banks that have issues with federally funded grants we receive, I want to suggest to council that we diversify our banking,” she said. “The majority of our banking goes to one bank. Since some of the employees have issue with this, maybe we need to relieve them of some of their concerns.”
Council was unanimous in the decision to amend the ordinance. They were also unanimous in accepting first reading of the city’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget, which will likely see no millage increase due to little to negligible population growth, Tanner said.
“With the CAP, we’re allowed about a .12 percent increase this year,” Tanner said. “Typically each year we’ve gone up by the CAP. But that is almost no growth.”
Tanner said percentages in the past three years have been between 1.2 and 2 percent.
“The state puts a cap on it every year, and if you don’t increase per the cap, there is a chance you can lose it,” Tanner said. “However, you can go back three years. So if we don’t increase this year, we can go back next year and add the .12 to whatever we have next year.”
He said increasing by the cap would give the city a .2 millage increase for 2016-17.
“That’s very little money, maybe a couple of thousand dollars at the most,” Tanner said. “We may not want to do anything with it this year, but we will adjust accordingly as the process goes along.”
The new budget, which will go into effect July 1, does propose increasing permit fees “slightly,” Tanner said.
“We have some fees we’re losing money on,” he said. “We may charge a $55 fee, but then it costs us $70 to advertise by law in the paper. So we’re not looking for it to be a big revenue builder, but we don’t want to lose money on it either.”
He said the proposed budget includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for employee salaries, along with $12,000 for a new retail development initiative proposed by council.
“We’re going to try and recruit retail development into Manning and Clarendon County, so this will provide funds for travel and incentives to try and recruit small business to Manning,” Tanner said.
There is also $20,000 for recreation included.
“Our sheds and restrooms at our parks, that’s included in there,” he said. “We are also going through the comprehensive plan update with Santee Lynches Council of Governments and Kyle Kelley. It is $15,000 for the plan update.”
During Administrator’s Comments, Tanner told council members that the city will purchase a new ladder truck for the Fire Department on May 25.
“Ours is obsolete; it almost didn’t get certified last year,” he said. “We are constantly having to do quite a bit of maintenance on it. The money is coming from surplus from the fire station construction.”
Tanner said that the Fleming project – the demolition of about 14 condemned homes in the Fleming neighborhood – will be back underway June 7.
“Six of those homes contain asbestos, and the contractor will be back in town to demolish those buildings,” he said. “With the asbestos, I expect the price of each unit will increase, but I don’t anticipate any budgetary problems.”
Tanner said a community meeting will be held June 2 at the Althea Gibson Center.
“One of the requirements for this grant for the Fleming project is that we have to help begin a crime watch committee in that neighborhood,” Tanner said. “The meeting will be the start of that process.”