Gigantic Pay Raise ‘Approved’ by Hurried Council - TribPapers

Gigantic Pay Raise ‘Approved’ by Hurried Council

Asheville resident Marc Hunt addresses council after they voted to name the wave feature after his son, Taylor, who died in a Kayaking accident. See story page 6. Photo by Clint Parker.

Woodfin – The Woodfin Town Council held four public hearings during their October monthly meeting on Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 18) and conducted several other items of business, including a 300% pay raise for the next council and mayor.

Starting with approving the consent agenda, the council members consented to issue the remaining $1.5 million in general obligation bonds from the $4.5 million voted on by the citizens for the greenway/blueway project. In addition, the council authorized the surplusing of two police vehicles as the department awaits four new police units.

During public comment, residents from the Riverwalk community spoke. Resident Daniel Day asked that some type of traffic measure be put in at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Another resident who supported Day’s request wanted to know what the town planned on doing with the ballfield at the community center.

While councilmembers typically do not respond to public comment, Councilman Eric Edgeton responded to both questions by stating that no action could be taken at Riverside because it was a state-maintained road and that the property at the community center was being evaluated with all options on the table.

Under new business, the council took up the first of several public hearings. The first continued from last month about the closure of the right-of-way along Wellington Drive. Town Manager Shannon Tuch said a new survey had been done and that it satisfied the town. Edgerton asked about allowing for sidewalks and stormwater rights-of-way. Tuch said that could be added.

During the public hearing, only the resident who requested the closure spoke and thanked the board for working with them. The board voted 5-1 to close the right-of-way, with only Councilman Ronnie Lunsford voting no, as he mentioned he was concerned about access for fire trucks and ambulances.

The next public hearing was on text amendments to Chapter 6 (Animals), 22 (Miscellaneous Offenses), 42 (Streets and Sidewalks), and 50 (Traffic) of the town code and was presented by Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dykes.

The amendments come after NC Governor Roy Cooper, in September of 2021, signed into effect S.B. 300, which brought several changes and reforms in law enforcement. Included in this bill was a provision that decriminalized certain ordinances that had been adopted by counties and municipalities across the state. It also required language to be provided within the specific ordinance if the ordinance was still to be considered a Class 3 Misdemeanor or if the fine was to exceed $50. In the absence of such language, the ability to arrest for an offense was removed, and penalties were automatically capped at $50.

Only one person spoke during the hearing, and it was a woman from last month who spoke about adding a ban on the “chaining” of dogs. Asked if anything had been done, she was told no. She said she would continue to come back until something was done. The board then approved the changes.
The third hearing was about text amendments to chapters 46—Subdivisions and 54—Zoning of the town’s ordinance. Tuch presented changes mainly dealing with sidewalks and flag lot driveways. The board, after the public hearing in which no one spoke, voted to continue the discussion until next month due to some changes the council asked for in the text.

The last public hearing of the night, which no one spoke at, saw the approval by the board of a voluntary annexation of three parcels totaling approximately 19 acres located off of Olivette Rd. and portions of two parcels totaling about five acres located off of Sweet Fern Parkway.
The council also approved a $100,000 contract with Quantum Consultants for the Town of Woodfin Comprehensive Plan; approved naming the whitewater wave feature Taylor’s Wave in honor of Taylor Hunt, who was killed in a whitewater accident in 2015 (see story page 6), and paused awarding money in the Community Grant Program until additional applicants can be found.

The last item of new business was raising the council member’s elected official compensation discussion. According to the agenda notes, Vice Mayor Jim McAllister and Edgerton requested “that compensation for elected officials be added as a discussion item.”

The increase would raise pay for the mayor and council members by 300 percent. “The town’s compensation is currently $300/month for the mayor and $200/month for councilmembers. A survey produced by the NC League of Municipalities places Woodfin near the bottom (lowest 10%) for elected official compensation for municipalities with populations between 5,000-9,999 residents. McAllister and Edgerton recommended $900/month for the mayor and $600/month for council members, to be effective after the next election in November 2024; a 300 percent increase.

Edgerton, the youngest member of the board, made his case for the increase, saying it would attract younger candidates. “This is not about us. So we were all clearly able to overcome that barrier of entry that I just described that requires a certain amount of privilege that I hope we can all acknowledge in recognizing its impact. So this change would not be to allow people like us to run again. It would be to allow people who are not like us to be able to run. That’s the whole point here.”

Lunsford said that when he ran for office, it was not the pay but serving his community that interested him. “I was trying to be a good citizen and be supportive of the citizens of the community.”

McAllister said he thinks “…it makes us look bad and if we’re going to be a happening town, we have to at least try to provide a little incentive for non-retired people to run and serve.”

Mayor Jerry VeHaun said there had been one increase and it was back in 2008, and if he had a vote, he would vote against this increase. He also said he did not trust the list from the League of Municipalities that the pay scale was being compared with. He asked that the vote be put off until next month so it could be studied a little more.

After more dialogue, McAllister asked VeHaun if he was ready for a vote. “I think we should add it on for discussion and put it off until next month. However, McAllister wasn’t having it. “I’d like to make a motion, sir,” said McAllister. “Go ahead,” replied the mayor. McAllister made the motion to increase the pay by 300%. The motion was seconded by Edgerton, with all council members, but Lunsford, voting for it.