Alcoa resident Douglas Benton wants Alcoa city manager Mark Johnson and the rest of the department heads to take a 50 percent pay cut.
Benton, a retired businessman, made the pitch to the Alcoa city commission during their scheduled meeting Tuesday night. He spoke during the public input period and had 3 minutes to make his point.
Benton spoke of the difficult economy and challenge Johnson and other department heads to share in the pain felt by families hurting in the economy. “I am a citizen of Alcoa. We have a right know what is going on with our money. I’m here to talk about the salaries of our top officials,” he said. “We think you should share in the pain, and I’m recommending you take a 50 percent salary cut.”
Mayor Don Mull thanked Benton for his report and the meeting continued for about an hour. Following the meeting, Mull said everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the city personnel office does a survey of other municipalities of similar size to ensure compensation is equitable. “The last two years there has been no pay raises or step increases,” he said.
Mull said the pay of the city manager and the other top officials is commiserate with the responsibility they have and that they serve more than just the 9,000 residents of the city. The city operates one of the largest water filtration plants in the region and provides utilities to half the county, he said.
A quick survey by Blount Today found that for the Alcoa City Manager, pay is in the middle when compared to other area cities of comparable size. Pay for City Manager Mark Johnson is third behind two other area city managers. Janice S. Casteel in Cleveland draws $137,465, Mark Watson in Oak Ridge makes 131,996.80 and Johnson earns $126,393. Cindy Cameron Ogle in Gatlinburg takes home $124,197.84.
Johnson said there haven’t been any residents upset about city officials’ pay as of late. “This came completely out of the blue. We’ve had a salary freeze for everybody for two years, and we have reduced the budget and not replaced 15 people who left through attrition,” he said. “We’re working lean and mean and surviving so far.”
Johnson said that while sales tax revenues have risen steadily for five months through the end of July they are still not what they were in June of 2008 before the economy tanked. Even in an economy where it is difficult to generate business, retail development continues to pick up, he said.
Johnson said everyone has a right to their opinion on salaries for city officials. “I don’t think the staff will agree though,” he said. “We aren’t just a city of 9,000. We run the largest water plant in Blount County, provide water for a third of the county and electricity for half the county, and you have at least 15,000 people going into Wal-Mart everyday.”
Johnson said the pay for city officials is “absolutely” commensurate with the work they do and responsibility they uphold he said. “If we were a sleepy little town in the middle of a rural county, I would understand,” he said. “But we have 255 employees who work 24/7, and all department heads are professionals.”