By Alex Bridges
Strasburg Town Council probably won't change its size any time soon.
Councilman Scott Terndrup brought up the idea Monday at the Finance and Personnel Committee of reducing the number of council seats from eight to six. Trimming council could provide some financial benefits to the town, Terndrup pointed out. But most members at the meeting said the number should stay at eight.
The town could save $7,000 a year by cutting two seats, Terndrup said. Each council member receives a stipend of $3,500 per fiscal year. The mayor receives $4,500.
At the same time, each member could make more money if the town spread the same amount council receives to fewer members. Terndrup also argued that town officials would need to deal with fewer council members.
Vice Mayor Richard Redmon said reducing the number of seats may help the town deal with low voter participation.
"Well, 90 percent of the citizens have no interest in the councilmen who are elected," Redmon said. "They don't vote.
"If there's a way that we could use this to possibly encourage more participation of the people who are residents, I think it would be good," Redmon added. "Put something before their eyes that might shock them into participating."
But Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. said participation comes in cycles. In 1986, 13 people ran for four seats on council, Orndorff recalled. In a subsequent election, four people ran for four seats, he added.
"It's cyclical," Orndorff said. "It's issue-related. It's the amount of apathy or the amount of interest."
Orndorff said that council has raised its salaries in the past. Council's pay isn't an issue, Orndorff added, noting that he didn't think increased salaries would inspire people to run for office.
The discussion turned briefly to the pros and cons of keeping elections in May or shifting the contests to November. May elections keep the local races separate from the partisan contests held in November, Orndorff said. Terndrup agreed that the bigger elections carry a degree of partisan politics.
However, Councilman John Hall Jr. commented that fewer people vote in the local elections.
Terndrup asked why eight council members are better than six. Orndorff said that having more seats means each member represents a smaller percentage of the population. He cited comments Mayor Tim Taylor made in his state-of-the-town address last week regarding the groups of people each council member represents: school-aged children, churches, the senior population. As Orndorff explained, reducing the number of seats could eliminate the groups of people that would be represented on the council.
As for how the number of council seats affects Strasburg workers, Town Manager Judson Rex said this would not change how staff members go about their duties. A small council could mean fewer people with whom employees would need to form relationships.
"On the other hand, you lose out on the additional perspective that comes with two additional council members, the networking and relationships that goes along with those additional council members," Rex said.
The town manager added that the matter remains a topic for council to discuss. Rex said he saw this as a possible way to engage the public and make citizens more aware of what council does in terms of representing the community.
"This could be a catalyst to help maybe gain some more interest in people running for council or even just being more engaged in the community," Rex said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org