WATERVILLE — City councilors have unanimously declared their support for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour and will send letters to elected state and federal representatives, urging them to actively support the increase.
The 7-0 symbolic vote Tuesday night followed a speech by former councilor Steve Aucoin, who said it is important for local governments to state their support. He said there has been a continuous shrink in household income in Waterville over the last decade and the minimum wage must be raised.
“Trickle down economics doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked,” Aucoin said. “It’s time we lifted from the bottom up.”
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and Maine’s minimum wage is $7.50 an hour. Last month, President Barack Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage of federally contracted employees to $10.10 an hour. Eight U.S. cities and counties have set minimum wages above state and federal minimums, according to the National Employment Law Project, and in Maine, Portland has formed an advisory group to recommend whether the city’s minimum wage should be raised.
Critics say increasing the minimum wage would lead to price increases and limit business’s ability to give raises to employees who earn more than the minimum wage.
Charlie Conley of the Kennebec Valley Organization and David Anderman, pastor of the First Congregational Church, in Waterville, also urged councilors to support a minimum wage increase.
The Kennebec Valley Organization is a group of religious congregations, labor union locals and representatives of community groups and small businesses working to save and create jobs, help promote affordable housing, worker training, youth services and public services for seniors and those needing mental health services, among other things.
Anderman said he is reluctant to support the proposed minimum wage increase because it is “too feeble and doesn’t go far enough.”
He wondered aloud why the minimum wage is not tied to wages of chief executive officers.
“I think the minimum wage should be a living wage, and short of that, why not at least match inflation?” Anderman asked.
He said he has five requests on his desk at his church from people who need emergency help with rent, security deposits, heat, and food.
“Most of those people are working and they’re working at very low paying jobs,” he said.
Mayor Karen Heck called the council’s unanimous vote to support the minimum wage increase excellent, and noted that many people living at Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter have jobs.
“I have to say how proud I am of Waterville,” Heck said. “It’s so important to have a livable wage and I appreciate the fact that the councilors are in favor of that.”
In other matters Tuesday, the council voted to approve creation of a recreation committee and a finance committee. City Manager Michael Roy said Wednesday that the finance committee would be different than the finance committee mandated by the city charter and made up of members of the council and Waterville Board of Education. The committee councilors voted to create Tuesday would look at city expenses only, and not include anything school-related, he said.
The council voted to approve submission of a draft 2014 comprehensive plan to the state Department of Conservation for review.
Councilors also voted to define responsibilities of the council chairman. Those responsibilities include consulting with the city manager and mayor on agendas for council meetings, appointing members of the city council, with council approval, to ad hoc committees of the council and recommending council members to other committees that require a council vote except in cases where rules give the mayor the authority to appoint.
As part of his responsibilities, the chairman also communicates to all councilors matters dealing with council committee proceedings, issues that come before the council and other related items.