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Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch

Members of the Huntington City Council could soon be asked to vote on pay increases for councilmembers and the mayor elected next year, with increases to begin in 2021.

Pay raises for Huntington’s mayor and city council members should be on the agenda following action by the council’s finance committee recently. The reasons for proposing the increases are sound, and they merit thoughtful discussion.

The council is required to review the salaries of its members and the mayor every four years. Because salaries cannot be increased during an elected official’s term in office, the review must be done before the municipal election. The next election is next year, so the new pay rates would take effect in 2021.

The finance committee approved a proposal to increase the mayor’s salary from its current $85,000 a year to $114,500. Council members’ pay would increase from $600 per meeting to $630.

The increase for council members is based on the cost of living as calculated by the Social Security Administration.

“I’ve said for years the mayor’s position is incredibly way too low,” said Councilmember Alex Vence. “Nowhere in the private sector could you get a CEO to run a $60 million operation for what we pay.”

Committee chairwoman Joyce Clark said the mayor should be paid more than the city manager, which pays $94,884 annually. That position is vacant.

The proposed salary increase for the mayor’s job is a 34.7 percent raise. That sounds high. But is it justified?

As the finance committee did, let’s reduce it to a simple question: What’s the market rate for someone who is expected to manage an enterprise the size of Huntington city government? While the city does have a city manager’s position, that person reports to the mayor. Voters hold the mayor responsible for ensuring public safety and infrastructure needs are met. The mayor is also the city’s primary salesperson and lobbyist.

By those standards, the mayor’s salary does not hold up to that paid in private enterprise or in nonprofits that are expected to be run as businesses. And in West Virginia, the $85,000 that Williams is paid is less than the $125,000 that Charleston Mayor Amy Schuler Goodwin is paid. It’s also less than what the executive director of the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District receives.

The public is justified in asking if $114,500 the right figure. If it’s not, it’s probably close. How do benefits figure into that number? Those are questions that need public airing and answers before the council votes.

Speaking of city council salaries, members of that body could use a raise, too. A diligent council member spends a great deal of time informing himself or herself about the city’s needs and has a great deal of information to review.

The committee discussion hinted at the possibility that the mayor’s current salary might prevent qualified candidates from running for the office. Maybe. Maybe not. Williams has already announced he plans to run for his third and final consecutive term next year, and other candidates are exploring challenges. If a pay increase draws better candidates into the contest, good. It might also draw frat boys looking for something to do as a joke, but voters will have to deal with them.

As the good book says, you don’t muzzle the ox that treads the corn. The ordinance to increase salaries could be discussed at the next council meeting on Oct. 14. It could get its second reading two weeks later. That’s plenty of time to settle the details, but the overall idea of salary increases for the mayor and council should move forward.

Welcome to the discussion.

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