City Council balks at salary increase proposals

Discussion about increasing the Salisbury mayor’s and City Council members’ salary was tabled at the City Council work session this week, after the four members present failed to agree on an amount.

Jim Ireton refused to agree to more than a $12,000 increase, from the present salary of $25,000 to $37,000, prompting Councilman Muir Boda to suggest a compromise of $50,000. Councilwoman April Jackson agreed.

Council President Jack Heath said the matter should be postponed until Councilman Hardy Rudasill, who was absent on Monday, returned. Mayor Jake Day was not at the meeting, but he has said he opposes a high salary for mayor.

“Fifty, to me, is totally inadequate. I have to vote no and if I vote no that kills it,” Heath said

Last month, Heath said the salary should be commensurate with the mayor’s responsibility.

“I liken it to the business world. I was asked by one of the Councilmen what the salary would be for a CEO with a $58 million company. It would be between $65,000 and $80,000 depending on the company,” he said.

His comments came after the Salary Review Committee recommended tripling the mayor’s salary, from $25,000 to $75,000 annually. Also recommended were 18 percent pay hikes for City Council members. Their current pay of $10,000 would go to $11,800 and the Council president’s would go from $12,000 to $14,160.

Increases wouldn’t take effect until 2019.

When the discussion began on Monday, Boda said it referred to “five, 10, 15 years down the road in elections.”

“We’re not going to have any part in it. It’s not about today. This is about in the future and what we’re expecting of the mayor, what the job has, in the past 15, 20 years, turned into. Mr. Ireton did it for six years and how did he …?” he began.

“Eat. How did he eat?” Ireton interjected.

“At least a $25,000 increase, to a $50,000 increase. He does need an increase for the work that he does,” Jackson said.

But Ireton countered the city is not a corporation, but provides a service.

“It’s nice to be in the black and we always are because it’s mandated. I’m not disagreeing with Council President Heath. He said, ‘What if a businessman wants to run for mayor and has a family?’ What if anyone wants to run for mayor and has a family?

“We already have too much money in our politics, especially in the case of candidates that take a strong positon on particular issues … The low salary reflects the need for people who are invested in the city, not people who see it as a gig,” Ireton said.

“Yes, it was incredibly hard for me to do what I did for six years and I grumbled about it and I filled out my taxes and did the best I could do,” he said.

When he was mayor, the city didn’t have a public information officer or arts and entertainment director, so he was also responsible for those duties, Ireton said.

A high salary, he said, would “invite the things that come with high number salaries in politics.” It wouldn’t increase the voter turnout, he said.

“The city is not a corporation. It provides a service. I guess we’re trying to impress our stakeholders. I call them our stakeholders. The mayor calls them stakeholders, but they’re not really. They pay in instead of us paying out to them,” he said.

“In the end, public service doesn’t pay … but I am I favor of it increasing the salary over the next few years,” he said.

Heath said the city can be compared to a nonprofit organization and CEOs of nonprofits would earn more than $25,000, $30,000 and even $50,000 per year, Heath said.

He agreed the city provides a service, but said non-profits do, too. “There’s a connectivity there,” he said,

“The responsibility that the mayor has, and the accountability that he has, because, you know better than anybody else the buck stops in that office,” he said, looking at Ireton.

“I don’t care who is working in that office … when it hits the fan, the mayor is the one who takes the heat and it should be, rightfully so. Because he takes the heat he should be compensated for that responsibility,” Heath said.

“For the next two years from now, which would be from 2019 to 2023, that’s the time frame we’re looking at for whoever the mayor is. What should we pay that particular mayor? Maybe in that time frame, it’s between $50 and $60,” Boda said.

“We love and adore this mayor but we cannot decide if we’re going to pay all the rest of the mayors from here on out based on his performance,” Ireton said.

“I know that doesn’t support a family but there are a lot of people who support a family, who live in the city, on $37,000,” Ireton said.

“But they don’t have the responsibility of the mayor,” Heath said.

“Who would work on any job without a raise? Who would?” Jackson asked.

“Teachers, for six to eight years,” replied Ireton, who is a teacher.

“Well, that’s teachers. Is that in a contract for them? OK, well, that’s a contract. This is not a contract,” Jackson said.

Under the City Charter a raise panel is seated every four years to evaluate compensation scales for the mayor and City Council members. To take effect, the committee’s recommendations would have to withstand Council scrutiny, be approved by the Council and then signed into law by the mayor.

A Salary Review Committee made similar recommendations four years ago, but the raises were voted down on a 3-2 vote. Ironically it was Mayor Jake Day — who was then City Council President — who cast the deciding negative vote and now, as mayor, he said he isn’t convinced an increase is necessary.

Working as mayor isn’t his only source of income for Day.  He also receives earnings from the U.S. Army Reserves and his wife, Liz, is a school teacher in the county.

Salary Review Committee members are Kimberly C. Gillis, chairwoman; Winona Hocutt; Robert L. Moore, a CPA; Albert G. “Gil” Allen III, a lawyer; Jennifer Jordan; and Lily Chi-Fang Tsai.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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