by Laura Bednar
June 13 city council meeting
Independence City Council approved pay raises for the mayor, vice mayor, finance director and council members beginning in 2024.
Council members will make $12,000 per year, up from $10,000; the vice mayor will make $13,500, up from $11,500; the mayor and finance director will each receive raises of $35,000, increasing their salaries to $110,000 and $100,000, respectively. Legislation to codify the finance director as a full time position was also approved.
According to state policy, a full-time finance director should not have significant outside income. Councilman Jim Trakas explained that an outside financial-related position should be disclosed publicly.
Trakas said he researched city officials’ salaries from communities similar in population and pay rates and figured that Independence should be somewhere in the middle.
Vice Mayor David Grendel said he felt the benefits package for council members was more of a value than the salary. He said the mayor’s salary was last increased in 2012, and the salary for council members hadn’t changed in 23 years. The finance director’s salary was increased in 2012.
A key factor in raising council members’ pay, according to Trakas, was action by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System that increased the minimum salary to $12,000 to earn service credits towards retirement.
Councilperson Dale Veverka, who cast the only no vote in the salary proposals, said the value of medical and other benefits should be taken into account when determining reasonable compensation for council members.
“Just comparing salaries is not a legitimate way to deal with the question,” he said.
“I think mayor and finance director should be increased to keep us competitive,” said councilperson John DiGeronimo. “You’re asking someone to put their career on hold to do something else full time.”
Finance Director Vern Blaze told council to “take themselves out of it and just look at the position,” adding that council members sacrifice a portion of their personal lives and privacy. Blaze also said $110,000 was low for mayoral compensation compared to other communities, such as Brecksville.
Said councilperson Tom Narduzzi, “The more you offer, the better people you have putting their name in the kitty to try to sit up here.” He also supported raises for the mayor and finance director, asserting that someone performing their responsibilities in the private sector would earn more.
“My feelings are that we’re all public servants up here, and I don’t see any of us needing additional funds,” said councilperson Anthony Togliatti. “I would be completely satisfied with the compensation we are currently receiving. I think the health benefits are extremely generous.”
He added that the raises for mayor and finance director seemed in line with other communities.
Councilperson Chris Walchanowicz was in favor of the raises, saying he didn’t think it was an extreme amount of money.
Economic Development Director Jessica Hyser asked council to designate property on Rockside Woods Boulevard North, future home of a 155,000-square-foot Class A office building, as a tax increment financing district. The building will house accounting and financial services firm CBIZ.
The value of the property will increase when the building is complete. Hyser explained that Independence will use the TIF to collect taxes on the amount by which it increases to be used for public infrastructure.
The The Independence Local School District and Cuyahoga Valley Career Center would receive the property taxes each is entitled to as if the TIF were not in place. Hyser explained that once the project is complete, she estimates it would generate $5 million in taxes for the city and $6.7 million jointly for the school districts for the life of the 30-year TIF.
Water main funds
Following a water main break on E. Pleasant Valley Road, west of I-77 in May, City Engineer Don Ramm said the engineering department’s remaining 2022 emergency restoration fund of $50,000 is not enough to repair the break and have money left for the rest of this year.
Each year, $150,000 is appropriated for water main breaks, leaks and/or water valve and/or hydrant repairs. Legislation states, “Additional funding is required for this [Pleasant Valley] and other future breaks for the balance of the calendar year.”
The $150,000 appropriated for 2023 will be used for ongoing and future road and right-of-way repair work resulting from water main breaks.
Ramm said Pleasant Valley has been the only large-scale issue this year, and the ruptured pipe was manufactured in the 1960s.
Stone Road complaint
Two residents voiced concern over Stone Road properties that have fallen into disrepair. Resident Andrew Conkey said the condition is unfortunate, and he wants to know what to do.
“We’ve been patient to try to get them to move cars and clean things up, and we’re done,” said Mayor Greg Kurtz. “If we don’t have action before next council meeting, there will be something on the agenda at the council meeting.”
Resident Betsy Greene said the man who owns the property also owns a piece of wooded property next to her home. She said trees from the site have continually come down on her property. “People die from tree branches falling down, it’s dangerous,” she said.
Kurtz said the next step after contacting the owner is to authorize the city to clean it up. ∞