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It seemed the mayor was trying out an April Fools’ joke in suggesting Roanoke City Council raise taxes and his salary. Sadly, he is serious.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
It is moments like the one that occurred Monday more than seven hours into a Roanoke City Council meeting that cause people to wonder how Mayor David Bowers keeps getting elected.
The next opportunity to silence him won’t come for three years, but Roanokers ought to give Bowers an earful in the coming weeks in response to his dual call to raise their taxes and give him and council members a pay raise. Surely the mayor jests, speaking as he did on April 1. But then Councilmen Sherman Lea and Bill Bestpitch were well-rehearsed and foolishly backed the mayor on pay raises. Bestpitch went so far as to suggest they could draw the maximum allowed by law. This would boost his city salary $6,440 to $23,000; the mayor would get a $5,000 bump to $25,000, and city taxpayers would shell out a total of $48,640 more to their elected leaders.
Despite Lea and Bestpitch’s apparent support, it is doubtful that Bowers can secure enough votes for passage, making it all the more foolish that he would seek a pay raise in the first place. After all, he got one this year when council salaries were restored to their pre-recession level.
Bowers’ call to raise taxes is equally bizarre, especially after sitting through a day-long budget discussion that for the first time in many years is encouraging.
To be sure, the next fiscal year will still require an austere spending plan, but the belt isn’t cinched so tight that city services are gasping for air. In fact, there’s room finally to breathe. Most funding streams are rising, and the commonwealth won’t be robbing localities to balance the state budget. Council even had a little more capital money than planned to prepare for broadband and a $6 million culvert to bring passenger rail into downtown. And the city will be able to spend more maintaining sports fields, paving roads, helping youngsters learn to read, battling storm water and rewarding employees with a 2 percent pay increase.
Though the budget is still about $1 million out of balance, it is the smallest gap at this stage in the process since before the recession. And city staff is optimistic the gap will close in the next two weeks.
In all, the $270 million plan is about where Roanoke was in 2008 before the recession sharply contracted revenue and city services. Given all this, Bowers now thinks city services have been cut way too much over the years. People are hurting, so the best thing to do for them is raise their taxes, he reasons. And when he talks about people hurting, he includes himself.
Bowers said two questions need answers: Should council raise taxes? What is the appropriate salary for city council?
Yes, he should know those answers. But tell him anyway.
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