It took an inordinately long time for Orem's City Council members to decide Tuesday they haven't talked long enough about whether to start paying for a full-time mayor.
After a late start waiting for a quorum, the council heard arguments pro and con on the budget issue for nearly 90 minutes. Council members then recessed for another 30 minutes. Mayor Joe Nelson waited in his office during the entire discussion.Finally, council members voted to accept the proposed 1998-99 $56 million city budget but without agreeing to begin paying the mayor $48,000 a year - at least not until they can discuss the idea a great deal further.
Currently, the part-time mayor gets between $15,000 and $21,000 annually, depending on whether he or she takes cash or city health insurance.
Residents and former city officials lined up to ask the council to take more time to study the question, complaining that because the idea was listed as a budget issue it did not get a fair hearing before the public.
Former planning commissioner Lisa Deason cited several cases of cities with larger populations that do not have a full-time mayor and do just fine. She said Orem's population of 84,000 does not justify the change and if paying the mayor full-time wages signals moving toward a change in the form of government, the public needs to be informed.
Former Mayor Stella Welsh urged the council to listen to Deason and seriously look at other options before opting to simply pay the mayor more money.
"I can argue both sides," she said, adding that $48,000 may not be enough and that $60,000 will bring "professional politicians."
"I believe it needs thorough study," Welsh said.
ReNae Brereton, also a former planning commissioner, said she's concerned that a car allowance for the mayor and council members has been quietly included in the budget along with the proposal to possibly triple the mayor's salary.
Deason said the car allowance amounts to a pay raise for the council, one that is sneaky.
Councilwoman Judy Bell said the car allowance simply would pay for wear and tear on their personal cars and isn't something that is unusual.
Bell also said her poll of five similar size cities: Provo, Murray, Sandy, West Valley and Ogden, showed everyone but West Valley has a full-time mayor and a city manager. They pay their mayors between $56,000 and $73,000 a year, she said.
"This is an opportunity we have to grow up and to set a higher standard," Bell said.
"I think it's time for Orem to step forward," Councilman Bill Peperone said. "It is not fair for Orem to have to depend on the charity of our retired community to serve as our mayor."
Peperone said having a mayor serve full time is one way the city can "listen harder" to its residents.
Councilman Mike Thompson said the council would be going against what people want by voting to increase the mayor's wage. "Utah has a tradition of public service. I think that needs to remain part of the mix," he said.
"Orem is a business with a $56 million budget," said Councilman David Palfreyman. "I think it's time we step up and say, `We're a big city.' "
Ultimately, a motion to approve the budget from Councilman Steve Heinz passed with everyone agreed that if the council decides to not change the mayor's status to full time, the money appropriated for the salary will return to the budget to help pay for the new public safety building.
Otherwise the budget was accepted largely without debate with $2.2 million included to help keep ZCMI as an anchor in the University Mall, a new 1 percent transient room tax, slightly higher sewer fees and a provision for the city to take over lighting the community streets and subdivisions.
Residents will start paying $2 per month for the lights after this fiscal year.