Members of the York County Council deserve a raise. But they ought to vote on it, separate from motions to raise the pay of county employees.
Since 1996, the council has received a raise every time it approved one for county employees. Last summer, the council approved a 3 percent merit raise for all employees for the current fiscal year, which meant council members automatically received a 1.5 percent raise.
Chairman Britt Blackwell lobbied this year to eliminate the automatic raises for council members. The issue surfaced during his re-election campaign last fall when Blackwell was challenged on the issue by his opponent, Gary Williams.
Blackwell responded by saying he opposed the automatic increase since he found out about it. He said he would give his pay increase to charity and would ask the council to strike down the pay raise provision.
At a council meeting earlier this month, Blackwell gave a check to a Rock Hill nonprofit, Renew Our Community, for the amount of his raise, which is less than $300.
On two preliminary votes earlier this year, a majority of the council agreed with Blackwell on ending the automatic raises. But before final approval last week, several members had second thoughts. The council ultimately voted to keep the automatic pay hikes.
Councilmen Chad Williams and Bump Roddey, who previously had voted against Blackwell’s idea, said annual increases are needed for York County to keep pace with other counties and attract qualified council members. Roddey noted that York County Council’s pay already is below the state average.
At the Feb. 18 meeting, three other members aligned their votes with Williams and Roddey.
While we believe a raise for council members is appropriate, we also agree with Blackwell that the council should be “transparent” if it wants more money. Members shouldn’t hide behind the automatic-pay-raise clause.
That said, we also realize that critics will use any pay raise request to excoriate council members. Pay raises invite demagoguery, and a segment of the public will always come up with a reason office-holders should be denied a raise.
In many cases, public servants genuinely deserve a raise. We think council members more than earn the money they receive for their service. The proposed 1.5 percent raise would amount to $240, bringing the salaries to $16,251 each. That’s hardly a king’s ransom.
The chairman’s salary was increased to $18,661.
Council members must work hundreds of hours to read materials pertaining to issues on the council’s agenda. They also must be available to constituents for most of any given day, including days off.
In short, their pay is largely a token amount. It doesn’t fully compensate them for the amount of work they actually do to serve county residents.
But it probably helps. And it provides a small financial buffer that might make it easier for a candidate who is not wealthy to consider running for office.
Council members should have to vote to give themselves a raise. But if a raise is justified, they should approve it without feeling guilty about it – and with the gratitude of the residents they serve.