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The Press Newspaper

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Northwood City Council will decide at its next meeting in August whether to cut the salary of the zoning inspector as a result of the recession.

Kimberly Grames became the city’s interim zoning inspector after former zoning inspector Heather Sayler accepted a job with the City of Bowling Green last year.

Grames, who was Sayler’s assistant, currently makes $43,394 annually, the same salary Sayler made in the position. Grames’ annual salary as Sayler’s assistant was $25,000.

Council is divided over cutting Grames’ salary.

The Finance and Economic Development committees weeks ago recommended to council that Grames become the permanent zoning inspector and be paid the same salary as Sayler.

But some on council resisted.

“I would support anything between $36,000-$39,000,” said Councilman Connie Hughes. “Our revenues are down $197,000 in the first six months of this year. We need to be watching our budget. We haven’t laid anyone off, and we hope not to lay anyone off. But as you can see in other communities, they’re doing a lot of that. This is one way, by keeping costs down, that hopefully we can continue to keep services the same.”

Finance Director Toby Schroyer had noted at the last meeting that the city could see revenues drop by another $200,000 by the end of the year.

“That’s $400,000 in a year. That’s a lot,” said Hughes.

Hughes, Mayor Mark Stoner and Councilman Mike Myers, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, said the zoning inspector’s job is less demanding since the economy soured. Therefore, the salary should be less.

“Compared to what we were doing three and four years ago, her workload is not there,” said Myers. “Development is not there, and that’s her biggest responsibility. She’s doing a great job, but there’s a little more to the job,” said Myers.

Although development has slowed down, the duties of zoning inspector are still considerable, said Bacon.

“Ironically, now that more people know they can’t sell their homes, they are putting money into them to keep them up. Installing siding, windows, a fence, an addition, a roof, or constructing a shed, requires a zoning permit. She goes out and makes inspections all the time,” said Bacon.

Among Grames’ duties: assist residents on zoning matters, mail zoning forms to residents upon request, perform inspections, note and issue violations, mail follow-up letters to ensure compliance, send violators to court, make sure property improvements are completed before permits expire; check on property setbacks, assist with driveway, sidewalk and excavating permits, represent the city at rotary meetings, prepare for and attend Planning Commission meetings, prepare for and attend Board of Zoning Appeals meetings, attend architectural review meetings and economic development committee meetings, assist business owners and appraisers with zoning questions, attend conferences, work on the annual Buy Northwood for Northwood program, and prepare a yearly zoning report.

Grames and Bacon have invited council members to spend a day with her so they can see what the position demands.

So far, no one has accepted.

“We get her reports every month, and if you take the reports and look at them, you can tell how many permits she’s written and how many calls she’s made,” said Hughes. “The winter is not a busy time. It’s mainly busy in the summer, when people are doing projects. So I go off the report, what’s she’s done in a month.”

Councilman Dave Gallaher said it looks like the city is singling out Grames to cut costs. Other city employees received a 2 percent raise this year. In addition, Grames is saving the city $35,000 because the $25,000 zoning assistant position will not be filled, and she is waiving the position’s health insurance benefit, for which the city would have paid $10,000.

“When you look at what some of the other positions are getting paid in the city, I don’t know how you can cut one position by 8 percent and leave everyone else up on the sun deck, enjoying the vacation. It’s not fair,” said Gallaher. “If it’s because of the economy, then we have to take a real hard look at the entire budget and do something about it. And if it requires us to cut everyone’s pay by 8 percent, then it’s what we have to do. I think we’re in pretty good shape. But if in fact we’re not, then it should not be the responsibility of one employee in the entire city to bear the brunt of the problem. If we’ve got a problem, then let’s deal with it.”

“We’re not singling her out at all, though it looks like it,” said Myers. “We can look at every job, not just one.”

The city will likely review the pay of the tax commissioner, who recently retired, he added.

“This is going to come up again shortly. Is her assistant going to take the position at the same pay rate? We don’t know,” said Myers.

“We haven’t even started working on our 2010 budget,” said Hughes. “But I’m sure it’s going to be lean with what we know right now.”

Gallaher suggested that public officials also take cuts in pay until the economy improves.

“I’m not sure we should be going to our employees and expecting people to take a pay cut if that’s something we’re not going to consider as elected officials,” he said. “I suggest a $100 cut in pay for council members, and a $150 cut in the mayor’s salary. We should lead by example.”

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