Roanoke City Council Seeking To Raises Own Pay by 28%

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Roanoke City Council will soon be bringing home more bacon.
Roanoke City Council will soon be bringing home more bacon.
Roanoke City Council will soon be bringing home more bacon.

UPDATE: Roanoke City Council voted to put off its pay raise vote until the June 3 at 2:00 p.m. council meeting. Councilman Dave Trinkle proposed an 8% to 10% raise versus the 15%-28% raise put forth in a motion by Bill Bestpitch at the last council meeting. They will vote on the 15-28% raise and if it fails there will presumably be another motion for a 10% across the board raise, if that fails then it would drop to 8%, etc etc according to City Attorney Dan Callaghan. The public can speak at the 2 PM and 4 PM City Council meetings on May 20th.

For a moment last Monday morning it looked like council was going to give themselves a 48 percent raise. At least that is what Councilman Bill Bestpitch was aiming for until other council members stopped him in his tracks. They then voted to give themselves a 28% increase. City employees didn’t see quite such a jump.

All new city employees after July 1 will be enrolled in a Health Saving Plan with the employee contributing one percent of their salary. They will receive a pay increase of one percent to offset the contribution. The plan for July 2014 will have city employees contributing five percent of their salary to the pension plan with an offsetting five percent pay increase, said Ann Shawver, Director of Finance.

The city’s plans mirror the contributions in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The contributions for both the Health Saving’s Plan and Pension plan will be shifted from the city to the employee.

City council members will also be included in the revised ¬†health and pension funding approach. They will make the same contributions from their salary. Presently, the mayor’s pay is $20,000, the Vice Mayor is $15,688 and council members get $15,560.

Bestpitch compared the population of Portsmouth to Roanoke saying the General Assembly had set their pay cap at $25,000 for the mayor and $23,000 for city council members. That would amount to a 25 percent increase for the mayor and 48 percent increase for council members not counting the six percent cut for their contribution to the health and pension plans. Shawver said that would cut the increase from 48 to about 35 percent.

“It’s very easy to just automatically oppose an increase in council salaries based on the politics of the situation,” said Bestpitch noting that some citizens think they should receive no salary at all. “That’s actually a very elitist attitude toward public service,” he said; “only those people who are wealthy can serve in public office.”

A five percent increase for council was adopted in 2007 for fiscal year 2008. That increase was rolled back in 2009 at the suggestion of then council member Gwen Mason when city employees were taking a hit with position eliminations and no raises. The five percent raise was not restored until July of 2012.

City Manager Chris Morrill said overall council has received a five percent pay increase over a 10 year period.

Councilman Court Rosen disagreed with Bestpitch saying, “At 23 grand we’d be making more than state legislators who spend 60 days a year in Richmond.” It’s not a replacement salary and Roanoke has a lower cost of living, said Rosen. “I don’t think this was intended for us to do as a living.”

Bestpitch later pointed out that legislators get paid for every committee that meets, get perks and are reimbursed for just about everything.

When Councilman Sherman Lea mentioned being competitive in salary with other urban jurisdictions Councilman Ray Ferris said, “Nobody from Petersburg or Norfolk has recruited me to run for city council there.”

Councilwoman Anita Price said members do spend more than two days a month performing council business. That was in response to Rosen’s comment that they spend only two days a month at council meeting. “It’s hard to put a number on the time and energy that goes into this job.”

Morrill said taking the middle of the road with a salary increase of $23,000 for the mayor, $21,000 for the vice-mayor and $20,000 for city council members would cost the city less than $30,000. This would result in a 15 percent increase for the mayor and 28 percent for council members.

A pay decision needs to be made by December, four months prior to the next election or they will have to wait until 2016. Ferris tried to table the sticky issue but a kerfuffle of parliamentary procedure made the motion out of order. Bestpitch then presented his motion to have City Attorney, Dan Callaghan draft a city ordinance for a council pay increase to $20,000 and the Mayor’s pay to $23,000. Lea seconded the motion after a long pause.

The vote was 4-3 with council members, Bestpitch, Lea, Price and Mayor Bowers voting in favor of drafting an ordinance to be taken up on May 13 at budget adoption.

In other business:

At the public hearing on the budget 22 speakers advocated to restoring $10,000 that was cut from the Virginia Cooperative Extension programs. Staff said that the $10,000 was taken from the VCE for the Roanoke Community Garden Association.

By restoring the $10,000 to the VCE Ferris said, “If we’re going to ignore the BFO (Budgeting For Outcomes) process here … it defeats what we’re trying to do with BFO.” He pointed to the committee that ranked the VCE at the lowest level. “The funding is suppose to go away and we’re not doing it.”

Morrill said that the VCE has had a hard time making the transition from budgeting positions to budgeting for outcomes. Ferris thought they had already spent more than $10,000 worth of time on it saying, “We need to fund it – it’s frustrating because the whole purpose of what we’re trying to do … when we hear enough squeaks” we fund it. Morrill said, “They are probably going in the right direction.” Roanoke County increased funding for VCE this year and “that has shown their success.”

By Valerie Garner