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South Haven City Council members rejected a pay raise for this year.

Council members voted 4-1 this past Monday, to refuse a pay increase, even though a citizens committee recommended they receive more compensation for their service.

“I didn’t even know I got paid until I was elected,” said Chris Campbell, a two-term council member who introduced the motion to decline the pay increase. “The money is nice but I prefer it go back to the community.”

Mayor Scott Smith, who also has served two terms on the council, voiced similar sentiments.

“The first time I was on the council, I thought it (the salary) was a refund for my utilities,” Smith said. “I do this for the love of my community. I do just as well with an occasional thumbs up.”

Council members have not received a raise in compensation since 2008, according to Rosalie Plechaty, chair of the Local Officers’ Compensation Commission.

The commission meets on even-numbered years to review the compensation for mayor and council members. However, the commission didn’t meet last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Your compensation hasn’t been raised since 2008,” Plechaty said. “Your duties are crazy. It’s hard to compare South Haven to any other community its size. Your duties are more like a city of 15,000-20,000 population.”

The city council oversees the board of public utilities, downtown development authority, parks commission, planning commission, harbor commission and department of public works, as well as several smaller boards – including the local development finance and brownfield redevelopment authorities.

Currently, the mayor earns an annual salary of $1,200, plus an additional $25 for each regularly scheduled meeting. Council members receive $800 annually, plus an additional $25 per regularly attended meetings.

The Local Officers Compensation Commission recommended the mayor’s salary be increased to $1,500 annually, plus $30 per regular meeting, with council members each receiving $1,000 per year and $30 for attendance at each meeting.

If the raise had been approved, the annual payroll budget for mayor and council members would have gone up from $10,200 annually to $12,540.

George Sherman, a member of the compensation commission, said the group spent a good deal of time studying salaries for city commissions with similar responsibilities.

“The committee’s recommendation is not lightly based,” he said. “The recommendation has a lot of foundation to it.”

In part, the compensation commission based its recommendation on issues the city council is facing and ones expected to occur in the near future.

Council member George Sleeper, who voted no to the council motion to nix the pay raise, said he agreed with the commission’s rationale.

“Initially I was inclined to agree that I didn’t need additional compensation,” he said. “Then I read the rationale for it. I think the committee put together a good proposal. I think it’s time to gradually bring the compensation up, not that I think we have bad people running for the council, but it sends the right message – the time the council puts in has a value to it.”

Council member Jeff Arnold said it might be easier for the council to accept a raise if the current members weren’t voting to receive a raise while serving their term.

“Next year, if you can structure it so seated people vote for the next group, that would probably help,” he said. “Then we’re not giving ourselves a raise.”