Lebanon City Council on Monday passed two bills on their first reading that would increase salaries for Lebanon’s mayor and city council members for the first time in five years.

If passed again next month on final reading, the mayor’s annual pay would increase from $62,000 to $75,000 starting next year. Salaries for city council president and vice president would move from $2,000 to $3,000, and for other council members from $2,000 to $2,400.

Council president Joseph Morales said the increases were his idea.

“It’s been five years since we’ve had any increase of salaries for city council and for the mayor,” he said. “When we did this five years ago, we were trying to keep up with inflation, and that has not changed.”

“When we looked at some other cities in Pennsylvania with … a strong mayor form of government … we thought this was totally in line,” Morales said.

While he ended up voting for both measures and expressing his belief that the mayor was underpaid for supervising 120 city employees, Councilman Chris Miller made it known that he was not happy with how salaries were brought up. Calling the increases after five years of inaction “a Band-Aid,” Miller said “the timing of this is inappropriate and the lack of transparency that has surrounded this is embarrassing, frankly.”

Miller successfully convinced council to amend both measures to require that all future pay raises be tied to the federal government’s Consumer Price Index for the Northeastern United States, a widely accepted measure of inflation.

Council then passed both measures, as amended, on first reading, and will have to pass them again next month before the proposed increases can take effect.

Other business before council

  • Local resident William Eckenroth addressed council on behalf of the Hilltop Playground Association. The private association that operates the playground is strapped for funds, and he appealed to council for help. Mayor Sherry Capello mentioned that a similar group has successfully revived the South Sixth Street Playground through fundraising and obtaining grants from the state. She offered to put Eckenroth in touch with South Sixth Street’s leadership.
  • Capello reported that, as of June 30, with the fiscal year half over, revenues were at 69% of budget projections, and expenditures at 37%
  • The mayor informed council that she has appointed Brad Longenecker to fill a vacancy on the city’s Housing Board of Appeals. His term will expire on May 1, 2025.
  • The mayor informed council that she was reappointing Craig Gates to a five-year term on the city’s Zoning Hearing Board. Gates has served on the board since 2015. Council unanimously approved the reappointment.
  • Council authorized the mayor to apply for a $2.2 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. If approved, the funds would be used for a streetscape project along Cumberland Street from 4th to 12th streets. It would include new sidewalks, curbs, and trees.
  • Council postponed a final vote on a bill authorizing a one-year extension of certain tax breaks available to the purchaser of the old Northwest Elementary School at 900 Maple St. under the Pennsylvania’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (“LERTA”). City attorney Donna Long Brightbill reported that the purchaser and Lebanon School District appeared close to closing the sale.

Next council meetings

City council’s next “pre-council” planning meeting will be on Thursday, Aug. 19, at 4:45 p.m. The next regular monthly council meeting will be on Monday, Aug. 23, at 6:30 p.m.

Both meetings are open to the public and will be held in council chambers, Room 210, Municipal Building, 400 S. 8th St., Lebanon.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...