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Roanoke City Council Likes Idea Of Raising Their Own Pay

Roanoke City Council
Roanoke City Council

It was a surprise ending to a long day of briefings and budget wrangling for Roanoke City Council Monday. That and some additional thoughts shared among members brought Mayor David Bowers to the edge and then to an eventual dangerous leap off the political cliff.  He not only suggested the potential career ending words “tax increase” but added to that a very risky  “pay raise” for the mayor and city council.

“It has been on my mind ever since this morning,” said Bowers.

Apparently the Mayor’s comments were prompted by Director of Finance Ann Shawver saying that the city was at the same revenue level as 2008. “That is great fiscal conservatism … I’m so proud of that,” Bowers said before he committed the political faux pas.

He tiptoed into it, however, admitting the subject was “highly charged.”

Constituents won’t like it but he said he wanted to make the point that the city was at the same budget as in 2008, $259 million in revenue. “We’re doing more with less.” He calculated that $125 million had been cut from the budget over the past five years.

He said he found the idea of raising taxes and increasing council members pay difficult because it “runs against the grain” but the question needs to be asked of taxpayers. “What is the cost of the progress and future of our city . . . “

We work hard,” he said and pointed to the five Roanoke County Board of Supervisors that get a higher pay than Roanoke City Council. Other cities of comparable size are paid more, said Bowers.

There is still $1.1 million left to cut from this year’s budget and all the cuts have an impact. “I’m not sure that we’ve got the complete request [for funding] from the school system yet,” said  Bowers. He then posed two questions: “Whether or not we’re going to consider [more] revenue?”  and “What is considered an appropriate rate of salary for the members of the city council.”

Councilman Sherman Lea brought up that in 2009 their salaries were frozen. Lea supported Bowers pay raise recommendation as did Councilman Bill Bestpitch. No other council members spoke for or against it which seemed to signal a general feeling of approval.

Bestpitch brought up that the General Assembly sets local elected officials’ pay based on population. The larger cities push their pay to the maximum of up to $27,000 and $25,000, he said. As a smaller city Salem pays their mayor $13,000 and council $12,000.

“Our salaries are substantially below the amount that’s been identified by the General Assembly … if you look at the duties and responsibilities … it is significantly below where it should be,” said  Bestpitch.

Councilman Lea pointed out that in April 2009 then Councilwoman Gwen Mason surprised city council in a briefing saying their pay should be rolled back to 2007 levels. Mason at the time was running as a Democrat for retiring Republican Delegate William Fralin’s seat in the 17th HOD district

At the time Lea objected saying, “It ought to be up to each individual Council person …  if an individual Council  member wants to donate all their salary that’s fine.” He pointed out that some members of city council were in a better position to do that than others.

It was not until July of 2012 that the mayor and council had their salaries restored. City Clerk Stephanie Moon confirmed that prior to July 1, 2012 the salaries were:  Mayor – $19,050 (now $20,000), Vice Mayor – $15,688 (now $16,560) and council members  – $14,816 (now 15,560). The higher salaries were in force as voted on by then Mayor Nelson Harris in 2007 just prior to his reelection loss to Bowers.

The pay raise for the mayor and city council will be open for public comment at the budget hearing on April 25.

– By Valerie Garner

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