City Council members approved pay increases of almost 11 percent for themselves last week, after one council member argued the panel was long overdue for a raise.
The increase, which is effective immediately, bumps annual council member pay from $5,000 to $5,547, while pay for the mayor pro tem rises from $6,000 to $6,657. The mayor’s salary increases from $9,000 to $9,985.
Mayor Eddie Lee, the only council member who voted against the measure, said Monday it was not appropriate. “The community is upset about it,” he said.
Lee, a Winthrop University history professor, argued the raise violates the intent of the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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That amendment prevents members of Congress from granting themselves pay raises during a current session. Any raises adopted must take effect during the next session of Congress.
Lee maintained that local elected officials are bound by the same principle. “This is one reason that people get upset with people in political positions increasing their salary,” he said.
The pay issue was raised last month by council member Denise Lowry, who said council members had not received a raise in years. The last ordinance setting pay for the council and mayor was approved in 2001.
Under that measure, City Manager Charles Helms said, council pay increases were to begin in 2005 and continue in each odd year after a general election.
However, those raises were never implemented.
Helms said the measure approved by the 2001 council called for cost-of-living raises based on the consumer price index for the previous 12 months.
Helms said instead of the consumer price index information, which wasn’t readily available, he based the proposed raises voted on by the council on the actual raises granted to York city employees.
Helms said he added to council salaries the actual percentage of raises given to York city employees in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013.
In most years, Helms said, city employee raises amounted to 1.5 percent to 2 percent. Helms said the raises approved by the council did not include back pay for those years.
In raising the issue of council pay, Lowry said members of the Rock Hill City Council recently approved substantial raises for themselves.
“This job is pretty serious,” Lowry said in arguing for a raise. “It can stress you out a little bit. I don’t think we need to neglect ourselves.”
Charles Johnson, who serves as mayor pro tem, noted that the council pay change had been approved in 2001, but had simply not been enacted.
“It’s an ordinance. We just fulfilled it,” Johnson said.
Council member John Shiflet agreed.
“It was simply implementing the ordinance that was passed a long time ago,” Shiflet said. “The council was satisfied that all the research we had requested had been done, and it seemed like the prudent thing to do.”
Shiflet disagreed with Lee’s assertion that the measure was a constitutional violation. “I don’t agree with him there,” Shiflet said
York resident John Eakin, who addressed the council after the raises were approved, said he objects to the way the council has been using city money.
“They spent too much on staff and not on the actual citizen,” argued Eakin, who said the city still has trouble with brown water.
He questioned the council: “How can you justify paying yourself more when we rely on volunteer firefighters, and we don’t have enough firefighters, we don’t have enough police officers?”
Eakin also said Helms, who has a GED, earns $105,000 a year, up from $81,000 in 2006. During the meeting, he asked Helms to retire, saying the city needs a more capable and better educated city manager.
Helms declined to comment on the charges made by Eakin.
Lee said the council salaries for York fell in the middle when compared to those of other cities with similar populations and similar budgets.
According to data for 19 cities from the S.C. Municipal Association, he said, council salaries were higher than York in nine cities and lower in nine cities.