Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Roanoke City Council warms to idea of raising their pay

Mayor David Bowers

Mayor David Bowers

It was a surprise ending to a long day of briefings and budget wrangling for city council Monday. That and some extended thought brought Mayor David Bowers to the edge and eventual leap off the fiscal cliff. He not only suggested the potential career ending words “tax increase” but added to that political risk a “pay raise” for the mayor and city council.

“It has been on my mind every since this morning,” said Bowers. What prompted him was when the Director of Finance Ann Shawver said the city was at the same revenue level as 2008. “That is great fiscal conservatism … I’m so proud of that,” Bowers said before he committed the political faux pas.

He tiptoed into it admitting the subject was “highly charged.”

Constituents won’t like it but he said he wanted to make the point that the city was at the same budget as in 2008, $259 million in revenue. “We’re doing more with less.” He calculated that $125 million had been cut from the budget over the past five years.

He said he found it difficult because it runs against the grain but the question needs to be asked of taxpayers. “What is the cost of the progress and future of our city.”

There is still $1.1 million left to cut from this year’s budget and all the cuts have an impact. “I’m not sure that we’ve got the complete request [for funding] from the school system yet,” said  Bowers.

The possible political career game-changer came when he brought up a pay raise for all of city council. He admitted that bringing both raising taxes and council pay raises in the same breath was a precarious thing to do.

We work hard he said and pointed to the five Roanoke County Board of Supervisors that get a higher pay then Roanoke City Council. Other cities of comparable size are paid more said Bowers.

The two questions Bowers asked are “Whether or not we’re going to consider [more] revenue and what is considered an appropriate rate of salary for the members of the city council.”

Councilman Sherman Lea brought up that in 2009 their salaries were frozen. Lea supported Bowers pay raise recommendation as did Councilman Bill Bestpitch. No other council members spoke for or against it signaling at least some approval.

Bestpitch brought up that the General Assembly sets local elected officials’ pay based on population. The larger cities push their pay to the maximum of up to $27,000 and $25,000 he said. Salem City being smaller pays the mayor $13,000 and council $12,000.

“Our salaries are substantially below the amount that’s been identified by the General Assembly … if you look at the duties and responsibilities … it is significantly below where it should be,” said  Bestpitch.

As Councilman Lea pointed out earlier – In April 2009 then Councilwoman Gwen Mason surprised city council in a briefing saying their pay should be rolled back to 2007 levels. Mason at the time was running as a Democrat for retiring Republican Delegate William Fralin’s seat in the 17th HOD district

Vice Mayor Lea at the time objected saying “It ought to be up to each individual Council person …  if an individual Council member wants to donate all their salary that’s fine.” He pointed to some members of city council being more “well-heeled” than others.

Gwen Mason to make her point at the time said that due to the recession “other people are sacrificing an awful lot.”

It was not until July of 2012 that the mayor and council had their salaries restored. City Clerk Stephanie Moon confirmed that prior to July 1, 2012 the salaries were for the Mayor – $19,050 (now $20,000), the Vice Mayor – $15,688 (now $16,560) and council members  – $14,816 (now 15,560). The higher salaries were in force as voted on by then Mayor Nelson Harris in 2007 just prior to his reelection loss to Bowers.

The pay raise for the mayor and city council will be open for public comment at the budget hearing on April 25.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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