alexandrianews Editorial

In January of this year, City Manager Mark Jinks appointed a five-member ad hoc committee to review the pay of the mayor and members of City Council. Salaries for this group had not been increased since 2003, 15 years ago.  At the Saturday public hearing in June, City Council received the committee’s report and approved its recommendations to raise salaries for the term beginning Jan. 1, 2019. Council members' compensation will increase from $27,500 to $37,500 per year and the Mayor’s pay will increase from $35,000 to 41,600 per year.

The level of compensation for members of our “part time” Council has been a matter of debate for some time. Alexandria has slipped significantly behind the other metro area jurisdictions in compensating our local legislators but these other jurisdictions are generally considerably larger then our City. Our “strong manager, weak council” form of government envisions our council as working part time as a public service.

We have supported this system of government as being the best for a city of our size. We have also supported reviewing and reasonably raising the compensation of members of Council. We believe that the ad hoc committee’s plan is prudent and that the increases proposed are overdue. The mayor and members of Council put in long hours and deserve to have a reasonable level of compensation.

We are also in agreement with the way the result was reached. Three years ago, Council members tried to increase their salaries after the November elections which is counter to the City’s ordinance. This time the action was taken well before the November election so that if there is debate it can be aired and become a factor in the election. That provides protection for the City’s residents and it must be honored.

Of course, citizens may come to expect more from a more highly paid group. We would encourage that viewpoint. Alexandria faces many serious issues that require creative solutions other then increasing taxes and spending more money. Members of Council give “lip service” to the financial issues and make promises but the result has been simply finding additional ways to extract higher taxes and fees from the same population.

We also would hope to see the new Council earn their money by connecting the issues rather than by viewing each one individually. To paraphrase one former elected official, they have to start connecting the dots. The City Manager tries to do this but past Councils have tended to take a more discrete view, particularly when their pet issues are concerned. Our new mayor has talked about this a bit so perhaps we will see some action.

Council has also asked for further review of their compensation including, perhaps, automatic increases. We have little difficulty with further review but adamantly oppose automatic increases. History shows that when the economy turns sour, the first employee benefit that goes out the budget window is the annual cost of living adjustment. If Council were to build an automatic annual adjustment in for itself, it would make refusing one for city workers much more difficult. If workers received no increase and Council did it would set up great resentment. If Council granted increases to the workers, then it would force a large tax increase during a recession. We do not need this aggravation.

The best system is to study the compensation every three years and make the adjustment for the incoming council members. Past councils have often not wanted to face the political test that such approach produces. There is no reason not to have the political courage to do so.