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Vienna Town Council debates first potential pay raises in two decades

Vienna Town Council chambers (file photo)

Vienna is considering more than doubling the salaries for mayor and town council going forward, but the current holders of those offices suggested they will aim lower amid still-high inflation, fears of a recession, and general economic uncertainty.

At a conference session on Monday (Dec. 12), town staff proposed bumping up the pay for town council members from $5,000 per year to $12,000, and from $7,500 per year to $15,000 for the mayor. It would be the first raise for the mayor since 2014 and the first for the council since 2002.

Acknowledging the awkwardness of elected officials discussing their own compensation, Mayor Linda Colbert noted that, based on a rough estimate of the hours she spends on the part-time job, her current salary is equivalent to $7.32 per hour — well under Virginia’s minimum wage of $11.

“Nobody wants to give themselves a raise. We’re public servants. That’s not the first thing on our mind,” Colbert said. “We’re always thinking about the residents, but I do think if we’re going to do this, staff has come up with a reasonable amount.”

If approved, the raises would be in place for Jan. 1, 2024, since Virginia law prohibits salary increases from taking effect during the incumbent mayor or town council’s term.

The suggested new salaries would still put Vienna below the towns of Herndon and Leesburg, which both approved pay hikes earlier this year. For city elected officials, compensation is limited by the state code based on the locality’s population, Vienna Finance Director Marion Serfass noted.

Still, some council members seemed wary of pushing for a significant raise, questioning the proposed $3,000 gap between the mayoral and council salaries compared to the approximately $1,000 difference seen in other jurisdictions.

“I think making a decision on this based on what other jurisdictions are doing in terms of the differential between council and mayor, I just like the optics of that a lot better,” Councilmember Nisha Patel said, suggesting that the mayoral salary should be closer to $13,000.

Councilmember Ed Somers said he’s fine with a bigger gap, considering that there are six council members and just one mayor.

“From a budgetary standpoint, the council collectively costs the taxpayers a lot more than the mayor does,” he said. “So, I am worried about the fiscal issues. I am worried about where we’re headed with the economy, so I still think the spread should be a little bit higher.”

While Colbert argued that Vienna “should be leaders” in terms of setting pay standards, Councilmembers Chuck Anderson and Howard Springsteen sided with Patel in preferring the “optics” of aligning with other localities.

The salary increases are expected to be put on the agenda item for the council’s Jan. 9 meeting before the upcoming budget cycle gets in full swing, according to Serfass.

“We’re going to be making difficult choices in a time when there’s a lot of economic uncertainty,” Anderson said. “We’re probably going to have to ask people to basically make sacrifices, and if we as a council aren’t willing to do that, then I think it’s really tough for us to look staff in the face and ask them to do that.”

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