Our View: A lame duck session is the wrong time to enact a council pay raise

Our View: A lame duck session is the wrong time to enact a council pay raise

(File photo)

In this space last week we bemoaned the apparent determination of city council to hoist a post-election tax hike on Alexandria residents. This immediately follows an election in which all six incumbent city councilors were elected to the positions for which they ran. And it follows a pre-election budget cycle where the tax rate remained flat. It doesn’t take much cynicism to view this mode of operation as self-serving.

So, it’s also not a surprise to see that after the election, council is considering a seemingly enormous 64 percent pay raise for itself and the mayor. On face value, this increase would appear to be more of the same.

However, there’s actually a compelling argument to enact these raises.

Alexandria’s city councilors currently make only $27,500 and the mayor just $30,500. Yes, these are supposed to be part-time positions and most of our elected officials do have day jobs that make up the majority of their incomes. In addition, keeping salaries down is a way to try and keep new faces rotating through rather than having so-called “councilors for life.”

But anyone who has ever actually sat through the entirety of an all-day or late evening council meeting or public hearing can attest that these gatherings are not exactly scintillating. Add to that the many dozens of public appearances elected officials are supposed to make, participation in regional boards and commissions, trips to Richmond, plus preparation and pre-council meetings and committees, and you have a part-time job that probably rivals most full-time endeavors.

And the raises that are being considered are enormous percentage-wise, but not in dollar terms. Together, the seven raises for council and the mayor would total just $124,500, which would be one-fiftieth of 1 percent of the current year budget of $649.2 million.

We ultimately have no problem with the idea of potential raises for city councilors, the mayor and their aides. They are warranted and, frankly, overdue. What we object to is the timing and lack of transparency in how this is being done.

City code prohibits a current council from giving itself a pay raise. This means a raise either needs to be enacted in a lame duck council session such as this one, or passed with a future enactment date.

It would have been considerably more courageous and transparent had council in last year’s budget cycle enacted a pay raise. Councilors obviously did not suddenly discover the need for a raise right after last month’s election. Instead, like with the looming tax increase, council members ducked on this issue prior to the election, and in so doing evaded electoral accountability.

Because perception of and trust in elected officials is so important, we encourage council to either hold off on this salary increase until the next local election cycle or phase it in over several years. Doing the right thing in the wrong way tarnishes the end result.