Elected Officials Mulling Pay Increases

SALISBURY — How the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might impact Mayor and Council benefits as well as whether it would be legal to set in place a regular Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) salary increase were the two biggest questions asked by the Salisbury City Council during their follow-up review of an elected official pay study at Monday’s work session.
The study, a year-old effort by a Salary Review Committee appointed by Mayor Jim Ireton, recommended a 12-percent pay raise for Mayor and Council, amounting to an additional $9,240 in total raises among the elected officials. Committee Chair Lauren Hill returned this week to further elaborate on the study. She acknowledged off the bat that a sudden 12-percent jump sounds as high now as it did when the group first suggested it months ago, but continued to defend their advice.
“I think 12 percent, initially, sounds like a huge, huge bump but when you look at the pay discrepancy it’s kind of inline to a regular schedule,” she stated.
The Mayor and Council has not received an increase since Fiscal Year 2007 and any change adopted this year won’t go into effect until FY15. Given that large gap and the increases in inflation and cost of living, Hill argued that the increase was actually pretty tame.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell commented on how the raise keeps coming in large bursts every decade or so and said that it might be more practical to do smaller increases every year. However, the city charter doesn’t allow a sitting council to give itself a raise.
Mitchell was not certain if that would apply in this case because the council would vote on a yearly COLA rate that wouldn’t go into effect until after the next election.
“Would that be legal because that’s a prior council saying scheduled increases?” she asked.
City attorney Mark Tilghman replied that it was a “unique question” that will require some research. But he admitted that there might be some legal blocks to Mitchell’s suggestion since a pay raise every year, whether pre-determined or not, might technically violate the charter.
“I think that would be very difficult to do,” he said.
Following that discussion, Mitchell asked the second big question of the day regarding what impact, if any, ACA might have on mayor and council benefits.
“Are we going to be considered employees under the Affordable Healthcare Act?” asked Mitchell.
This was another point that will require research time, according to Tilghman. No advancement was made with the pay study at Monday’s meeting, though the council has promised to bring it back at a future work session after Tilghman has found the answers to Mitchell’s questions as well as any other points of contention that might arise.
Council President Jake Day thanked Hill and her committee for being patient and making multiple trips to help the council understand the salary situation.
“This is comprehensive and I appreciate you coming back to share the information with us,” he said.
Councilwoman Shanie Shields expressed some concern about the size of the suggested increase and questioned whether good public candidates are really looking so closely at the salary associated with the job or if they should be content to serve.
“But you can’t look at this as your livelihood because you know you’re not going to make enough money,” she said.
Whatever the council decides, Ireton asked that they get some momentum going on the issue as the study is already almost a year old.
“Again, the idea of paralysis by analysis, I just don’t want us to get into that situation,” he said.
Day promised that the study will remain on the council’s radar.