Hilton Head council votes itself a pay raise

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 16, 2012 

  • Hilton Head Island Town Council approved the following Tuesday:

    Resolution endorsing the South Island Dredging Association's plans to dredge Sea Pines waterways and dump the spoil into open water near the mouth of Calibogue Sound. Council says inland open-water disposal is the "only practical and feasible alternative" to maintain navigation of Sea Pines creeks and marinas, including the Harbour Town Yacht Basin.

  • Final agreement with developers to revitalize The Mall at Shelter Cove. Construction of the retail portion begins early next year, with completion in November 2013. Construction of apartments begins in 2014, according to developer Blanchard & Calhoun. Developer must still go through the town's design review process.

Hilton Head Island Town Council members gave initial approval Tuesday to giving themselves a raise, beginning next year.

Council voted 6-1, with Lee Edwards opposed, to a proposal that would more than double the mayor's pay and increase council members' pay by between 18.5 percent and 65 percent.

The increase requires another vote for final approval, and council has a special meeting scheduled for Oct. 31.

If approved, the increase would take effect after the Nov. 6 council elections.

Council members say raises are needed to encourage more people to seek office, particularly young working residents with families who can't afford to sacrifice time away from their jobs to serve.

"If you don't have a certain level of compensation for elected officials, then the only folks you're going to have as elected officials are" retirees, Mayor Drew Laughlin said.

Laughlin, who runs the island law firm Laughlin & Bowen, said he spends a minimum of 25 hours a week addressing town business, and his billable hours have fallen drastically since he became mayor.

Some residents and council candidates say now is not the time for raises because the island economy is still recovering from recession.

Edwards opposed the timing, saying that if it's designed to encourage people to run for office, salaries could be increased after the Nov. 6 election.

"I don't see the need to hurry this along," Edwards said.

Chet Williams, an attorney on Hilton Head who regularly attends town meetings, argued that council is "woefully and inadequately compensated," and he doesn't see the need to wait.

No one from the public spoke against the increase.

Town Council compensation has not changed since 1996, although the cost of living has increased nearly 45 percent, and salaries lag other municipalities in the state with similar forms of government and populations, according to a town survey based on information from the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

Hilton Head council members do not receive health or retirement benefits, unlike elected officials in other municipalities, according to the survey.

With the salary increase and new meeting stipends, the mayor's total compensation would climb from $13,900 to up to $30,000. Compensation for council members would increase from $10,800 to up to $16,800. Compensation for the mayor pro tem would increase from $10,800 to $17,800.

Council also voted unanimously to retroactively increase town manger Steve Riley's base salary 5 percent, as of July 1, to $172,200. Riley's last pay increase was July 2008. He did not request the raise.

"Not only does (Riley) continue to do a great job for us, but we've been very ambitious in the last two years in the burden we place on him and staff," Laughlin said after the meeting.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

Related content:

Hilton Head Town Council considers giving itself a raise: Oct. 6, 2012

Municipal Association of South Carolina municipal compensation survey

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