Fairfax's City Council came close to voting for a pay raise at a special meeting Monday, Jan. 2, but the motion dissolved amid division among councilmembers on the motion.
The City of Fairfax charter states that the mayor and councilmembers should receive compensation in accordance with Virginia state code. The city code has the mayor’s annual salary set at $6,500, with $4,500 per year for councilmembers. The salary rate has been the same for about two decades, said city manager Bob Sisson.
The proposed ordinance would have doubled the mayor’s compensation and nearly tripled that of councilmembers', to $13,000 and $12,000 per year, respectively. State code bases mayor and councilmember compensation on a jurisdiction’s population, and the proposed salaries are the maximum allowed by state code for Fairfax, which has a population of about 22,000.
City residents Gloria Toner and husband John, speaking at the public hearing, said they were supportive of the pay increase.
"This council has devoted many long hours working on the revitalization of the City of Fairfax," said Gloria Toner. The current compensation did not seem adequate for the position’s responsibilities, she said.
"We must not be the minimum-wage local government of Northern Virginia," said John Toner.
But Councilmember Patrice Winter said she did not feel comfortable with the large salary increase.
"I came into this position feeling grateful I was able to serve the people who had put their trust in me," she said. Although Winter agreed that a pay raise was needed, she did not go into the position for the salary, she said, and suggested a more modest increase of $2,000 – $3,000.
Councilmember Gail Lyon agreed that councilmembers never go into the job for the money, but said that the job does require a great deal of time and effort. The raise, which would not come into effect until after council elections in May, is not so much for the current council as it is for future councils, she said.
"The bottom line is, the council does work very hard," said Lyon.
"This administration expects public officials to work below minimum wage," said Councilmember Joan Cross, who entertained the original motion. "We do need to value the time councils put into this endeavor."
Councilmember Scott Silverthorne, who said he did support a pay increase, was dismayed at the "cracks in the armor" and the political skirmishes surrounding the issue. Lack of support for the pay raise led Cross to withdraw the motion.
"It is unfortunate, but perhaps the next council will be more forward-thinking," said Cross.
Councilmember Gary Rasmussen agreed. If the council was not going to vote unanimously, he said, then there should be no vote at all.
"I certainly believe an issue such as salary increase is a reasonable, debatable issue," said Mayor Rob Lederer. The issue has come up before in the 20 or so years since the last pay raise, he said, and most city residents would likely support it. But Lederer said he was "not a fan of this process," and expressed concern over the timing of the public hearing. Some residents might question the fact that the council meeting was scheduled on Monday, a federal holiday in observance of New Year’s, he said.
The awkward timing came from a need to get the motion in four months before elections began, said Lederer. "Nobody is in here because we want to do this in secret," he said, adding that he would have supported a more modest pay increase.
"I view the right to serve on the council as a privilege," said Lederer. "I do not believe a supplemented income is a reason to serve or not."