After two decades without a change, City Manager Russell Allen says it’s time to give pay raises to the mayor and city council – a step Allen says is needed to keep Raleigh competitive with other North Carolina cities.
Council members would get $5,000 salary increases and, for the first time, be allowed to buy health and dental insurance through the city under Allen’s $679 million budget proposal.
A public hearing on the budget will be held June 5.
Councilman Eugene Weeks said he supports the changes but expects them to be controversial at a time of intense scrutiny toward government spending.
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Currently, the mayor is paid $15,000 annually, plus $2,400 a year for car and other expenses. Seven council members each earn $10,000 plus $1,200 for expenses.
Allen says the timing is right to consider changes as Raleigh emerges from the recession. After granting $500 bonuses in lieu of raises last year for city employees, the budget includes merit-based salary increases equivalent to roughly 2 percent for full-time, salaried workers.
Allen received a 2 percent raise as part of his annual review in April, bringing his pay to $224,400.
A comparison shows the Raleigh council lags behind its peers in Charlotte, Durham and Greensboro. It’s also the only city in the group that does not offer optional health care coverage to elected officials.
The cost of providing health coverage to a council member is about $5,500, city officials said.
“The data clearly shows this is very reasonable,” Allen said of the proposed changes.
“We’re a large capital city,” he said. “Just as our employees’ salaries and benefits need to stay competitive, I think our elected officials need to stay competitive.”
Weeks, a retired schoolteacher who joined the council in 2010, said his $10,000 salary barely covers the gas mileage that he racks up traveling around his Southeast Raleigh district on city business.
“People do not realize that a councilman’s job is six to seven days a week,” Weeks said. “A lot of people think it’s just Tuesday (during council meetings).”
In January, Raleigh neighborhood activist Will Allen III called on the city to modernize council pay. In a guest editorial in The News & Observer, Allen noted that the last pay raise occurred in 1990 when Avery Upchurch was mayor and the city had 219,000 residents.
Raleigh’s population has nearly doubled since then.
“What used to be a part-time, almost volunteer, community service opportunity has evolved into a full-time job – that is, if it’s done right,” Allen wrote.
If the changes win approval, Weeks said, the council would be unlikely to revisit the issue anytime soon.
“I don’t think this will come back up within 20 years,” he said.