GAMBIER — In their third and final reading of a contentious ordinance Monday, Gambier Village councilmembers voted to give the mayor position a salary increase — not the 78 percent hike that some had hoped for, but a mere 33 percent boost.
Councilmember Betsy Heer said in the spirit of being “cooperative,” she would once again propose an amendment to the ordinance so that the mayor’s salary would be raised from $9,000 annually to $12,000. That is an increase of 33 percent.
Councilmembers Phil Brooks and Harold Ballard, meanwhile, had advocated that the mayor see an increase to $16,000, a 78 percent increase. They had said during previous meetings that small college towns similar to Gambier in population, which is about 2,400 including Kenyon College students, pay their mayors in that range.
Brooks said during Monday’s discussion that he and Ballard had talked it over and wanted to propose their compromise of $14,000 — a 55.5 percent salary hike.
“Surely you realize ($9,000) is a little low,” he said.
“Not based on what other mayors make in the area,” Heer responded.
A vote was soon taken on Heer’s proposed amendment to raise the salary to $12,000, which passed by a 3-2 margin with one abstention. Brooks and Ballard voted no. Heer was joined in her yes vote by councilmembers Liz Forman and Juan Pastor. Mayor-elect Leeman Kessler, who will be sworn in as village mayor in January, abstained. A second vote to adopt the ordinance with the $12,000 salary was taken, and passed.
In October, during the ordinance’s first reading, Heer and Forman had lambasted the proposed 78 percent increase as a matter of horrible timing and optics — given that the ordinance was proposed less than 30 days before the Nov. 5 election. But Mayor Kachen Kimmell, whose last regular meeting as mayor was Monday, had advocated for a salary hike for the mayor, saying during meetings that she puts in about 20 hours per week for what is a part-time job but one that has grown in duties over the four years she served as mayor.
Kimmell opted not to seek re-election and Kessler ran unopposed.
When the new Gambier mayor’s salary takes effect in 2020, Kessler will earn more than $3,000 annually above what the closest mayor in salary makes in Knox County. That would be the mayor of Fredericktown, with its salary of $7,950 set to increase to $8,700 next year. The mayor of Danville earns $5,000 annually.
Kimmell offered some final remarks about her term as mayor. She mentioned as accomplishments chairing public hearings to consider Kenyon College’s requests for permits to build more than $150 million worth of improvements — including downtown renovation and the currently under-construction West Quad project. She also cited leading a professional search late last year for Village Administrator.
But Kimmell also said there is a lot of work the new mayor will need to carry on. Just some of those projects in early 2020 will be approval of the Gambier Strategic Plan and its “roadmap” for the future, along with a traffic study and its recommendations from consultant Carpenter Marty.
“The village’s contract with the Knox County Sheriff ends March 31, 2020, so work regarding a new contract and the future of policing in Gambier will also begin right away,” she said. “The College Township trustees are asking the village to help find a way to keep a fire station operating in the village. Bid requests will go out for the Village Community Center renovations in January, with work to begin in the first quarter of 2020.”
In her mayor’s report, given at each council meeting, Kimmell recommended implementing a small income tax increase to better fund (College Township Fire Department) operations. The current Gambier income tax is 1.5 percent. But Kimmell and other local officials, including Kenyon chief business officer Mark Kohlman, have said a new source of revenue will need to be identified for the fire department to continue. The idea of a joint fire district involving College Township and the Village of Gambier has surfaced.
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