City Council members on Tuesday will weigh into the politically hot issue of raising their salaries by about $1,800 just before an election.
If adopted, six of the seven members of Columbia City Council would begin collection $15,177 yearly starting July 1, up from $13,350. The current pay was set in 2006.
The mayor already makes $75,000 – a pay raise council adopted in 2013 during the campaign to make Steve Benjamin Columbia’s first chief executive mayor in a change in the form of government referendum that failed.
Three of the seven seats on council are to be filled in next month’s election of a citywide representative and two district council members. If council does not vote before the Nov. 3 election, state law dictates that salaries could not be raised until after the fall 2017 election cycle.
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Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, one of the more outspoken members on a pay raise, said Monday the proposed $15,177 would grant the elected council six cost-of-living raises that Columbia employees have gotten since 2005, but council has not.
“I don’t want to own it as my proposal. Let’s just go through the process,” she said of Tuesday’s debate, acknowledging the political risks though she is not up for election until 2017. “But I’m not falling on my sword for this.”
A committee of council and the full council have the proposal on their agendas Tuesday.
Councilman Cameron Runyan, who is facing his first re-election bid as a citywide council member, flatly rejects a pay raise now or ever.
“I don’t ever envision a scenario where I would support a pay increase for council,” he said.
The city needs more police officers and firefighters, not higher salaries for council, Runyan said.
As a council veteran, Devine said, “I actually think I make less now than when I was first elected (in 2002).”
Council members, just as city employees, now pay considerably more for their state retirement plan, but especially their health insurance, she said. Devine recalled when city workers paid small amounts, if anything, toward their insurance plans.
A $15,177 salary would be in line with what other large South Carolina cities pay their councils, Devine said. She cited that in Rock Hill, the salary is $16,328; North Charleston’s is $15,956, Florence pays $15,180 and Charleston’s council members receive $15,000.
Nearby Cayce pays its council $16,500. Cayce’s population is about 13,000. Columbia’s is about 132,000, according to the U.S. Census website.
Richland County Council members are paid $17,777, a county spokeswoman said.
Devine said the current pay is a factor some candidates consider in deciding whether to run for office. “Lots of them just felt like it wasn’t worth it,” she said. “And they were community-conscious and really qualified.”
If the proposal is not recommended by the three-person Administrative Policy Committee chaired by Councilwoman Leona Plaugh, then the pay raise plan likely will die, Devine said. She and Councilman Moe Baddourah are the other committee members.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.
Comparing pay for municipalities
A sampling of salaries supplied by Columbia’s personnel office to Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine shows what some of South Carolina’s larger cities and towns pay their councils.
Rock Hill: $16,328
North Charleston: $15,956
Richland County: $17,777