‘Political danger’ warning as Charlotte mayor, city council in line to get big raises

·4 min read

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and City Council members are slated to receive hefty salary increases in the next fiscal year — if they approve that proposed budget adjustment for themselves in June.

City Manager Marcus Jones, who presented his recommendations for the $2.7 billion budget on Monday evening, noted that all city employees would get a 3% merit increase in fiscal year 2022.

He did not cite the mayor or council raises in his presentation. Lyles’ salary would increase by 41.5% and her total compensation, including benefits, would rise by 30.4%.That would bring her salary to $39,646 and total compensation to $59,868.

Meanwhile, Charlotte City Council members could see both their salary and total compensation grow by about 50% — to $32,638 and $52,444, respectively.

The mayor, through a city spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.

The changes for the mayor and council are mentioned in the manager’s written summary but not detailed until near the back of the 422-page budget book, released after the city manager’s presentation and media briefing.

The new pay figures are based on recommendations from the Citizen Advisory Committee on Governance, which Lyles and Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt had tasked with evaluating major changes to the City Council’s operating structure.

The committee was divided on issues like altering term length — for example, switching to four-year terms or using staggered elections — or moving to nonpartisan elections.

But the advisory committee unanimously agreed that compensation for the mayor and City Council members should increase and reach a comparable level to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.

Across 20 peer cities, Lyles was the third lowest paid mayor, the committee found last year. And council members were paid less than their counterparts in 13 peer cities.

In fiscal year 2021, under a citywide compensation increase, the total boost for the mayor and City Council cost taxpayers about $5,500. Now, the new amount is $217,235, which would go into effect July 3.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles could get a big pay raise under the proposed 2022 city budget.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles could get a big pay raise under the proposed 2022 city budget.

Opposition likely

Eric Heberlig, a UNC Charlotte political scientist, said those comparisons to peer cities might forge City Council members’ “best argument” as they justify their proposed raise to constituents. Still, public opposition is inevitable.

“Those comparisons are not going to persuade most people, but they might for people willing to give City Council the benefit of the doubt,” Heberlig said. “When salaries are low to begin with, any increase is going to look huge. That’s really part of the political danger to the City Council members.”

And another contentious factor: City leaders may stay in office longer than expected. That’s due to delayed census data needed to redraw districts, which could push elections from November into spring 2022.

The mayor’s pay hike

Under the city manager’s proposal, here are the changes for Lyles:

From fiscal year 2021 to 2022, her salary would increase from $28,012 to $39,646.

Expense allowance: decrease from $10,000 to $9,795

Auto allowance: increase from $4,800 to $5,192

Technology allowance: increase from $3,100 to $5,235

Total compensation: increase from $45,912 to $59,868

City Council’s pay hike

Under the city manager’s proposal, here are the changes for City Council members:

From 2021 to 2022, their salaries would increase from $21,646 to $32,638.

Expense allowance: increase from $5,800 to $9,795

Auto allowance: increase from $4,000 to $4,776

Technology allowance: increase from $3,100 to $5,235

Total compensation: increase from $34,546 to $52,444

Will council members approve raises?

Heberlig said there’s a possibility that some council members may reject their pay raises.

“If you think this is politically dangerous for you and would create a barrier to winning re-election, not just voting against it, but turning it down would be a way to communicate your seriousness and fend off opposition,” Heberlig said.

The council has not publicly deliberated the budget yet, although a public hearing is scheduled for Monday.

You can sign up to speak online at Charlottenc.gov/CityClerk/Pages/Speak.aspx. Reach the city clerk at 704-336-2248 or cityclerk@charlottenc.gov.