Wheeling candidates disagree on village manager's raise
The candidates for Wheeling village president disagree about whether the village manager should have received a 7% pay bump this year.
Trustees in January voted unanimously to increase Jon Sfondilis' salary from nearly $208,552 a year to $223,150 a year.
The move has drawn criticism from residents including mayoral candidate Mark Smith, who didn't like the political optics of giving that significant of a raise to a public employee during an economic crisis.
Conversely, Village President Pat Horcher said Sfondilis deserved the extra pay for the work he's done.
Smith and Horcher are competing for a 4-year term in the April 6 consolidated election. They spoke about that controversy and other issues during a joint, virtual candidate interview with the Daily Herald.
Sfondilis has worked for the village in various roles since 1993. He's been village manager since January 2010.
Sfondilis' employment agreement calls for an annual review of his performance, salary and benefits package. He last received a 5% pay raise in December 2019.
Sfondilis declined to comment for this story, citing the political nature of the issue.
Smith, a real estate developer and builder with Smith Family Construction, acknowledged that he wasn't privy to the analysis of Sfondilis' performance that led to the raise. But a 7% bump for a public official during the current fiscal emergency "didn't show well," he said.
"When we have many residents and businesses hurting, the timing was poor," said Smith, who is making his first bid for elected office.
Smith said he wouldn't have objected to a raise that kept up with the cost of living. He suggested a 2% or 2.5% raise would be more acceptable.
Smith also suggested deferring a pay raise might have been more proper.
In contrast, Horcher has said the raise was warranted based on Sfondilis' responsibilities and leadership.
Horcher praised Sfondilis' performance, saying he regularly works on village business after regular business hours and on weekends.
Despite his efforts, Sfondilis was the second-lowest paid manager in the Wheeling area before the raise, Horcher said. Even with the raise, he said, Sfondilis "could easily make more" in a different town.
But Horcher credited Sfondilis for having a lot of pride in the Wheeling community.
Horcher also noted Sfondilis has an institutional knowledge that can't be easily replaced -- especially during a pandemic and at that salary.
"The raise that he got was called for," said Horcher, a florist with the Wheeling business that bears his family's name. "And it probably should've been more."
As for the public perception of a 7% salary increase during a recession, Horcher said officials weighed that concern.
"And think about that," Horcher said. "Should we pay the guy what he's worth in spite of how it's going to look? That's a very political viewpoint.
"I suppose a good politician would have said, 'Nah, this is an election year. Let's not do that,'" Horcher continued. "So maybe I'm just a bad politician. Whatever."