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No matter how well you perform your job, the boss is not going to agree to a 28.5 percent pay raise. Roanoke City Council is making a huge mistake.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Roanoke Councilman Bill Bestpitch appeared ready to fight for the maximum salary allowed by law. But when push came to motion, even he must have found it embarrassing to award himself a nearly 50 percent pay raise. Instead, Bestpitch proposed a 28.5 percent boost, and Mayor David Bowers and council members Sherman Lea and Anita Price went along.
Should they make it official next Monday, Bestpitch’s bosses will get to decide if he can stick around long enough to collect the fattened pay check, as, by law, a municipal election will intervene before it can take effect July 2014. (Bowers, Lea and Price will be just midway through their terms, receiving the benefit of the raise for two years before standing for re-election. Time enough for voters to forget? They shouldn’t count on it.)
Council members last received a 5 percent pay raise in 2008, but they turned it down during a few years of the recession as a gesture of solidarity with employees whose pay was frozen. A justifiable case could be made by more reasoned council members to raise their salaries to compensate for hits they will take starting this July. They will begin paying 1 percent of their $15,560 salaries ($16,560 to the vice mayor and $20,000 to the mayor) into a retirement health savings account. And the following July, 5 percent will go straight to their pension account, a penalty that will affect all city employees.
Council plans to raise employees’ salaries to offset these charges so that take-home pay does not suffer. Taxpayers might find favor, then, in holding council members’ pay harmless as well.
But a 28.5 percent raise for council and a 15 percent raise for the mayor? The pay grab may prove as notorious as the early 1990s council — including Bowers — that voted to give members two years credit toward the pension plan for each year served.
Fans of irony might recall that Bestpitch’s first run for city council was prompted by indignation over the 2-for-1 pension plan and council salary increases.
Bestpitch will soon discover, if he hasn’t already, that while much has changed since in Roanoke, one thing has not: Voters expect their representatives to be prudent with their tax dollars. They don’t care that council members in Norfolk or Richmond draw the maximum salary allowed ($23,000 for council, $25,000 for mayor) or that with the raise, Roanoke, at $20,000 for council and $23,000 for mayor, would still be under the max.
Nor, despite Bestpitch’s protestations, will they swallow the argument that failing to amply compensate part-time council members is “elitist” thinking, meaning, only the wealthy can afford to serve.
And they’ll especially think Lea’s reasoning bizarre that Roanoke must remain “competitive.” As Councilman Ray Ferris responded, the people of Petersburg aren’t begging him to run for council there.
Voters are willing to compensate council members for their time and expense spent in service — as long as they remember whom they serve.
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