A proposal to raise Columbia City Council members’ pay by $1,800 is dead for at least two years.
Council on Tuesday night followed the lead of one of its committees earlier in the day in heading off a vote two weeks before Election Day. Without a final vote by Nov. 3 to raise council’s pay from $13,350 to $15,177, the sensitive issue is effectively put off until the November 2017 election cycle.
A salary increase would have had to receive two votes from council before the Nov. 3 election so that the pay raise could take effect next year, according to state law, which prohibits a sitting council from voting itself a raise until an election is held between the vote and the effective date of the raise.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who argued for the committee’s support, said council was past due for inflation increases that were granted to other city employees. Those annual increases ranged from 2 percent to 3 percent over six of the years between 2005 and 2013. Council’s last raise was in 2006.
Administrative Policy Committee members Leona Plaugh and Moe Baddourah said the timing of a raise now would send the wrong message to a city struggling to regain its footing after record-setting rainfall two weeks ago that breached dams, destroyed homes and did untold damage to Columbia’s infrastructure.
“Though this is not a lot of money,” Plaugh said, “it says we’re looking at ourselves and not at the needs of others.”
Columbia is facing expensive, unplanned expenses caused by floodwaters, she said.
Devine, who said she has taken “a lot of shots” for supporting a pay raise, disagreed.
“Us voting for this doesn’t take away from what our staff and our city are doing for people,” she said. Devine said approving pay raises for themselves is always a difficult vote and waiting will only compound the size of an increase later. She warned the committee about headlines that will say, “Council gets $7,000 raise.”
Devine also argued that keeping the salaries low will discourage otherwise qualified candidates from running for office. “We’re going to only have people who are independently wealthy or retired,” she said.
The city’s personnel department evaluated salaries in other cities and suggested the $15,177 pay plan, Devine said.
The mayor makes $75,000 – a pay raise council adopted in 2013 during the campaign to make Benjamin Columbia’s first chief executive mayor. The referendum to change the city’s form of government failed. Had it passed, Columbia’s first strong mayor would have made $160,000 but faced the prospect of a pay cut if he took a second job.
Benjamin would not have been affected by Tuesday’s proposal. He said, however, that council needs to take up the controversial issue in a serious way.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.
Other council action
Columbia City Council took other steps Tuesday on issues related to the aftermath of historic floods two weeks ago.
▪ In the city’s first public statement about the costs of recovering from the historic flood, City Hall so far has requested $13 million in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Of that total, $10 million is for some repairs to the Columbia Canal. The rest is largely to offset salaries of city workers at the emergency operations center.
▪ This weekend’s popular blues festival and a chili-cooking event cannot be held at Martin Luther King Park because the park is still too soggy to handle the weight of trucks and equipment for the festival and the vendors at the cook-off. The park in Five Points remains open to visitors, however.