Mayor, City Council pay raise measure advances

After several weeks of discussion and consideration, the Salisbury City Council this week passed on first reading an ordinance to increase the mayor’s salary to $50,000 annually.

The vote on the first reading of Ordinance 2473 was unanimous, with Councilman Jim Ireton absent.

Council members also approved pay raises for the City Council President, to $15,000 per year, and for Council members, to $12,000 per year.

Mayor Jake Day is now paid $25,000 per year. City Council President Jack Heath is paid $12,000 and City Council members receive $10,000

During initial discussions, Day said he would veto a pay increase for the mayor’s position. He made no public comment about it during the meeting Monday night.

Increases wouldn’t take effect until after the next election in November 2020.

Ireton, himself a former mayor, has consistently opposed an increase of more than $37,500 per year for mayor.

During a previous work session on the matter, Ireton said: “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?”

He added: “We already have too much money in our politics, especially in the case of candidates that take a strong position 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.”

At the Nov. 7 meeting, the City Council tabled the discussion after the four members present failed to agree on an amount.

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, returned.

“Fifty, to me, is totally inadequate. I have to vote no and if I vote no that kills it,” Heath said at the time, but he voted for it this week.

He had maintained 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.

By comparison, the town of Berlin recently approved a pay raise for its mayor from $5,000 to $15,000 annually, the first pay hike in a quarter century. Town Council members’ annual salaries were increased from $2,000 to $7,500.

Ocean City’s mayor is paid $30,000 per year, and council members receive $10,000.

Salisbury has a “strong mayor” form of government, in which the mayor acts as the chief executive. Ocean City, by contrast, has a city manager form of government, in which a hired administrator conducts business with Mayor & Council oversight.

For years, the mayor’s salary was set at $10,000. That was the figure when Barrie Parsons Tilghman succeeded W. Paul Martin as mayor.

In the middle of the last decade, those then sitting on the council imposed a gradual increase to the mayor’s pay, ultimately raising it to $25,000.

Adjusted for inflation, that $25,000 figure would be $33,000 today.

Impaneling a Salary Commission was strongly backed by the Greater Salisbury Committee and Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Salary Review Committee recommended tripling the mayor’s salary, from $25,000 to $75,000 annually and giving City Council members 18 percent pay hikes – from $10,000 to $11,800 for members and from $12,000 to $14,160 for the Council President.

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