Editorials

Still time to nix 41% pay hike

The Observer editorial board

Republican commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, center, was the only commissioner to oppose the pay hike. Republican Bill James, left, and Democrat George Dunlap, right, were among those backing the idea.
Republican commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, center, was the only commissioner to oppose the pay hike. Republican Bill James, left, and Democrat George Dunlap, right, were among those backing the idea. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

The 16 percent pay hike Mecklenburg County commissioners plan to give themselves on Tuesday is really more like a 41 percent pay hike.

Commissioners’ pay would rise from $30,252 to $42,593. The county currently pays for commissioners’ business travel and would continue to. Under the new plan, the way cell phones and other technology are paid for would change, but the county would still pay to replace commissioners’ devices regularly.

Commissioners tentatively voted 8-1 for the boost this week, with only Republican Matthew Ridenhour objecting.

Under the plan, commissioners would be paid 35 percent more than Charlotte City Council members. Chairman Trevor Fuller’s pay would jump from $37,096 plus travel and technology expenses to $49,437 plus travel. That would put his compensation 13 percent above the Charlotte mayor’s.

Let’s review some proposed 2016-17 raises:

Teachers? Maybe 5 percent.

Sheriff’s deputies? 3 percent.

Social service workers? 3 percent.

Part-time politicians? 41 percent.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers must accumulate 10 years’ experience before they make what the part-time commissioners would make under this plan, Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms reports.

There are sound arguments for boosting commissioners’ pay. The good ones work long hours. Higher pay might attract more-qualified candidates. And Mecklenburg commissioners are paid less than commissioners in some comparable counties outside of North Carolina.

But Mecklenburg commissioners last year made about $4,000 more than those in Raleigh’s Wake County, which is about the same size, and $3,000 to $8,000 more than those in North Carolina’s other biggest counties. So any increase should be measured, particularly when teachers are paid among the worst in the nation and other public employees are not receiving large raises.

“Commissioners say ‘it’s part-time but we work at it full time,’” Ridenhour told the Observer editorial board. “People can rationalize it however they want to, but it’s hard to justify increasing our salary that substantially when we have county employees who work full-time who don’t make near that much and teachers who don’t make that much.”

Commissioner Pat Cotham told the Observer that voting the plan down would not reduce the budget. County Manager Dena Diorio tells the Observer editorial board that in fact it would.

Commissioner George Dunlap, a Democrat, has been pushing for a large pay raise. He led an effort a year ago to raise pay even more than is being considered now. It was going to be voted on with little to no debate. At least this year’s was approved in a straw vote this week, before the final vote next week.

You want to take your frustration out at the ballot box on commissioners who support this pay boost? Too bad – as luck would have it, not one of those who voted for it faces real opposition this November.

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