City council mulls pay raise for members

City council mulls pay raise for members

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

City council is poised to approve its first pay raise for members in more than a decade, after councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to schedule it for Saturday’s public hearing on the matter.

The last time city councilors saw an increase in compensation was in 2002. City Councilor Paul Smedberg, who proposed the measure last month, said it has been mentioned in passing numerous times before, but was always shelved.

“You know, there’s never a good time to do this,” he said in an interview. “But I was just thinking as we were starting to discuss [regional board] assignments and everything for the new council, I just sat down and started reflecting on all the assignments I have personally, and all of the time in addition to council meetings I put in and how it’s increased since I first joined council.”

The mayor currently makes $30,500 per year, while city councilors are paid $27,500 annually. Their posts are considered part-time positions. Under Smedberg’s proposal, Mayor-elect Allison Silberberg would be paid $50,000 per year when she is sworn in next month, while the five re-elected city councilors and City Councilor-elect Willie Bailey would make $45,000 per year.

Smedberg said that may appear to be an excessive raise within the context of the city’s pay history for elected officials, but he argued it brings the city in line with other jurisdictions.

“There’s always an excuse not to do it, but if you look around, Fairfax [County] is raising their [pay for elected officials], Arlington raised theirs recently and Prince William [County] raised theirs,” he said. “All these jurisdictions raised their pay within the last couple years. I know we’re not as big as some of those jurisdictions and we’re not quite as large as Arlington, but the reality is we’re doing just as much as they are, we’re just as big a partner on a regional level.”

The new salaries for mayor and council would come in line with what elected officials make in every Northern Virginia jurisdiction, save the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church. The Arlington County Board chairman makes $56,629 and members make $51,480 per year; the chairman at large of Prince William County makes $49,452 per year while members of the board of supervisors are paid $43,422 per year. And the Loudoun County chairman at large makes $50,000 while members of its board of supervisors make $41,200 each.

Smedberg defended his proposal despite the fact that council is juggling a number of fiscal challenges, including city employee and firefighter compensation, the city’s budget and capital needs and the possibility of a property tax hike next year.

“I understand that point, but if we did not give the city manager the kind of flexibility he needs to address all of this and to implement some of the plans we have in place to be good stewards, the changes and the cuts that would have to come back would be dramatic,” he said. “I understand how some might feel about this, but the reality is that the stipend is not that big. And if we just raised it a modest amount, who knows how long it will be for history to repeat itself? I was looking back, and the last time before the 2002 raise, the time we looked at this before that was some time in the ‘70s or 1982 or something.”

Smedberg also stressed the need to raise the salaries of city councilors’ personal aides. Aides currently make an average $21,411 for the part-time position and receive no benefits, compared to $56,240 for fulltime aides in Fairfax County and $60,785 in Arlington.

“I trust that [the city manager] will come forward with a recommendation pretty soon on the issue of council aide pay,” Smedberg said at Tuesday’s meeting. “From my personal experience, I know my aide Nancy and she’s invaluable to me. In the mornings, at lunchtime and after office hours, we talk a minimum of three times a day.

“Without her, I simply could not do all that I do professionally and with this role here [on council], so while they are categorized as temporary or part-time temporary employees, they do play a very valuable role.”

And at council’s meeting last month, Silberberg suggested another way to improve compensation for council aides: benefits.

“Aides don’t have access to our health insurance plan, but we as council members do, provided we opt in,” she said. “It’s just something to think about as well.”

Council voted 6-0 to bring the proposal to raise the mayor and city councilors’ pay forward for a vote Saturday. City Councilor Tim Lovain was absent due to a business trip.