By Lorne Chambers | Editor

Near the end of the last meeting of the Folly Beach City Council, councilmember Tom Scruggs presented an ordinance amending chapter 31, section 31.02 to change the salaries of city councilmembers from $2,400 to $4,800 and to change the mayor’s salary from $9,600 to $15,000.

All councilmembers voted in favor of the increase with the exception of D.J. Rich. Sandra Hickman was not present for the meeting and therefore did not vote on the ordinance, which will face a second reading on Tuesday, March 8 before the ordinance is officially adopted.

While there was no public discussion on the matter at the time of first reading, some in the community are now crying foul. Some say that they could maybe swallow a traditional incremental raise, but that a flat doubling of salaries is outrageous. In the case of the mayor, it would be a 56 percent raise.

“Under normal circumstances, an incremental raise is more typical if you make periodic adjustments,” says Scruggs, pointing out that neither council nor the mayor have received any bump in salary in a decade. “We need to play catch-up.”

At the Tuesday, March 8 Council meeting, a second reading of a ordnance will be heard and if it is again supported by council, then it will be implemented, but not until after the next budget year, thanks to a motion from councilmember Rich, who was the only one to oppose the raise and felt that trying to implement it with the current budget, which did not account for the raises would prove to be problematic.

“We need to look at this from a budget standpoint to see if we can accommodate this increase. We’re talking about roughly $30,000 in a tight budget,” said Rich. “That means we either make some cuts or add some revenue, which hopefully doesn’t get proposed in a tax increase.”

The other part of the proposed salary adjustments is the timing, coming just after the deadline for filing to run for City Council in April’s election. Meaning the candidates and any potential candidates were seemingly unaware that they could be making significantly more money.

While he doesn’t like the idea of the increase, Rich doesn’t see anything wrong with the timing of it. “I think the timing was more that an outgoing councilmember wanted to propose and finalize the deal before he left office,” said Rich.

Scruggs emphasized that he will not be benefitting from the proposed increase because he is not seeking re-election this year. “After serving eight years on Council, I witnessed the significant amount of time that our Council members and the Mayor devote to serving our city and its citizens,” said Scruggs.

Last year, according to Scruggs, he personally averaged at least 10 hours a week attending council meetings, work sessions, special called meetings, Board meetings, and department head /staff meetings (including the research and analysis spent in preparation for these meetings).

“If you calculate what Council members currently make, relative to their overall time spent on Council business, it equates to less than $5.00 per hour,” said Scruggs.   “Raising the salaries of Council members to $4,800 per year is the equivalent of increasing their pay to $10 per hour.”

At the February meeting council was presented a chart showing how much other councils and mayors make in the region. Rich questions Scruggs’ use of other municipalities’ pay scales as a way to justify the increase. “In my opinion they did not match Folly’s size, structure, residency, etc. The islands we constantly compare to are Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms, who did not participate in the figures we were given,” said Rich.

Sullivan’s Island, who’s population is about 900 less than Folly Beach’s, does not compensate their council. “Other than the $25 gift certificate to a local grocery store given at Christmas,” said Andy Benke, town administrator for Sullivan’s Island. But he also admitted that it seemed a little unfair to not compensate the councilmembers. “As a resident of Sullivan’s Island, I would not have heartburn if the Council wanted a salary,” said Benke. “Knowing the amount of hours they spend on town-related business, the important decisions they make for the community and knowing how hard it is to keep good people in service. No compensation is likely a disservice to those on Council.”

But Rich said serving on council should not be about money. “If you’re doing this for the money, you are a fool,” he said. “I do it for the community. I’ve loved this community my entire life. I have a vested interest here and don’t see that changing. Folly has been good to me, and I want to be good to her.”

Whether he wants a raise or not, Rich may be getting one. On Tuesday, March 8 City Council will vote for the second time on the ordinance to amend the pay structure.

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