Council taps committee to look at salary levels for elected positions

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Councilman David Thomas advocates increasing the annual compensation for elected positions, noting they have not been adjusted in 16 years. Also pictured is councilwoman Pam Bucklew.

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council on Thursday voted 4-2 to appoint a committee to consider the question of raises for council members and the mayor.

Although the committee will make a recommendation to council, council would ultimately have to approve or vote against that recommendation. Councilwoman Mary Albaugh, councilman David Thomas and city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins will serve on the committee.

The issue first arose at council’s Dec. 19, 2019, after council gave the greenlight to raising the city recorder’s salary from $9,000 to $15,600 annually. Thomas said council members and the mayor hadn’t received pay increases in 16 years, calling them “overdue.” He requested the item be placed on the agenda of the first meeting in January for consideration.

Currently, council members make $4,800 a year, and the mayor earns $22,500.

“It’s not [for] the people that sit here, it’s for the positions,” Thomas said. “It’s been 16 years since the council and the mayor have had an increase, and I think it’s time that we take a serious look at providing something for these positions.”

Thomas and Albaugh wouldn’t be able to receive the proposed raises, if approved, because they were both elected for four-year terms in 2018, and their terms won’t expire until 2022. Mayor David McCauley, councilman CJ Rylands, councilman Robbie Skinner and councilwoman Pam Bucklew’s positions will be on the ballot in May 2020.

“I’m not advocating anything that would distress the city financially,” Thomas added, “and I would recommend, David, that we [have a committee] look at this. I wouldn’t be up for an increase, so I don’t have any wood in the fire.”

Thomas said he envisioned an extra $100-$200 monthly for council members and an annual salary of close to $30,000 for the mayor. Buckhannon’s mayor’s salary is now set at $22,500.

Unlike city council members, county commissioners’ salaries are set by the West Virginia Legislature, Thomas said. City council members don’t receive raises unless council votes to give them raises. Upshur County commissioners make $39,917 annually based on Upshur County qualifying as a Class 3 county, according to county administrator Carrie Wallace.

“None of us do it for the money, but I think there ought to be a process that makes sense,” Thomas said. “I’m disappointed that the (West Virginia) Municipal League hasn’t made a comment about this. The differentiation [between what council members receive] and what commissioners receive is just unbelievable.”

Thomas said he believed commissioners annual salaries plus benefits packages add up to nearly $70,000 annually in total compensation.

At council’s last meeting in December, McCauley said he was staunchly opposed to receiving a raise; however, Thomas pointed out the raise was for the position, not the person.

“David, you said you didn’t want to accept it, but that’s not you, it’s the position,” Thomas said, to which McCauley replied, “We can establish a committee to look at it.”

Bucklew suggested Thomas, Albaugh and Jenkins, the city’s finance director, consider the issue, and McCauley said he was in favor of that idea.

“Understand that Thomas and Albaugh were just elected in 2018 to four-year terms,” the mayor said. “They are not impacted whatsoever. Unless in 2022 they would run again, they would not be impacted by this.”

Rylands said he was opposed to increasing compensation.

“I think there’s a difference between public service and public employment,” he said. “I believe this position and council is an at-will public service; it’s not employment. If you’re compelled to serve the community, you should do so without expectation of payment.”

Councilman CJ Rylands says he’s opposed to increasing pay for the mayor and council members, arguing the positions are ones of public service.

“I think money in politics has caused enough problems, and I don’t support increasing pay,” Rylands added. “I think it’s a token, although significant, amount, and I appreciate it. If you’re compelled to do it, you should be compelled not by money but by a desire to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

During a roll call vote, McCauley and Rylands voted against the formation of the committee, while Sanders, Bucklew, Thomas and Skinner voted for the committee to look into the question.

Skinner said he was for the committee simply “for discussion.”

In other city news, council also approved on first reading Ordinance 440, which increases the city recorder’s pay from $9,000 annually to $15,600.