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Big mayor and council pay raises approved in Town of Herndon budget

Town of Herndon government offices (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Town of Herndon has held the line on its real estate tax rate as the council approved its $57.3 million budget for fiscal year 2023.

The budget, which represents a nearly 3% increase over last year, includes the first pay raises for the Herndon Town Council in nearly 15 years.

The real estate tax remains unchanged at $0.265 per $100 of assessed value, but property owners will see hikes in tax bills in the next fiscal year due to big jumps in real estate values.

The town also increased water and sewer rates from $6.28 to $7.16 per 1,000 gallons for sewer and $3.21 to $3.31 per 1,000 gallons for water along with an increase in fees for the Herndon Centennial Golf Course and Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

In response to some residents’ and councilmembers’ concerns that the increases were too high, Town Manager Bill Ashton noted that costs of maintenance for both systems have increased between 2011 and 2018.

“We weren’t covering over that period the money that would cover that operational capital expenditure,” Ashton said, adding that maintenance issues like pipe replacement are becoming more commonplace.

Not everyone was amenable to pay increases for the Herndon Town Council and mayor. Councilmember pay increased from $4,000 to $15,000, and the mayor’s pay increased from $6,000 to $16,000. The increases will go into effect in the 2023-2024 term.

The measure passed with Mayor Sheila Olem casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday night (April 26).

“It’s too big of a raise…especially for this time,” Olem said, adding that she had hoped to examine more modest pay increases for all boards and commissions instead of a big hike for the council.

Others said the move incentivizes more candidates to seek office.

Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said that, while she was conflicted about her support, the raise simply “doesn’t look good in a time of inflation.” Still, she joined the rest of the council in voting for the proposal.

“Sometimes you have to make concessions to make sure that something gets done,” she said.

Former mayor Lisa Merkel said that, while the salary increase for the mayor was appropriate, councilmembers should not receive a similar raise due to the differences in the mayoral and council roles.

“I am aware that there is a considerable difference in time and responsibility between serving as a council member verses serving in the mayor role,” Merkel wrote in a letter to the council. “The mayor signs all leases and legal documents, contracts, plats, and many other legally binding documents.  While Councilmember’ records and emails remain on the record and FOIAable for 7 years after their final term ends, the Mayor’s records remain on record and FOIAable in perpetuity.”

The first proposal included more modest increases — $10,000 for council members and $12,000 for the mayor.

The council will approve the town’s Capital Improvement Plan next month.

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