Hilton Head council votes to boost its pay

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 31, 2012 

Hearing no objections from residents, Hilton Head Island Town Council members gave themselves a raise Wednesday.

Beginning in December, Mayor Drew Laughlin's pay will more than double to about $30,000 a year from $13,900.

Council members' pay increases from $10,800 to as much as $16,800.

Pay for the mayor pro tem increases from $10,800 to up to $17,800. That increase will not affect current Mayor Pro Tem Ken Heitzke, who is not seeking re-election.

The increase takes effect after winners of Tuesday's council elections are sworn in Dec. 4.

The pay increase vote was 6-1, with Lee Edwards opposed.

Council members say the 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.

Councilman Bill Harkins applauded the increase as "an important step to broaden the base" of people serving on Town Council.

"It's important to create an environment that encourages participation from people of all walks of life and socioeconomic levels," he said.

The increase, though, was not without its opponents.

Some residents and council candidates say now is not the time to hike pay because the island's economy is still recovering from recession.

Edwards, who faces three challengers in Tuesday's general election, reiterated the increase was ill-timed, but did not elaborate and did not say he felt it was unwarranted.

He was momentarily confused during the meeting and mistakenly raised his hand to vote for the increase.

"That is 6-1, with Mr. Edwards against, though not clear where his heart really is," Laughlin joked.

Town Council compensation has not changed since 1996, although the cost of living has increased nearly 45 percent.

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.

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

Councilman Bill Ferguson, who has repeatedly called for the raise in recent years and also faces challengers in the election, said he favored a benefits package for current and future council members who are not "as financially endowed" as others.

The town cannot offer member participation in state health or retirement plans because town employees do no participate, town manager Steve Riley said.

Cost to offer an individual plan for council "is way beyond (the town's) ability," he said.

Related content

  1. Hilton Head council votes itself a pay raise: Oct. 16, 2012
  2. Hilton Head Town Council considers giving itself a raise: Oct. 6, 2012
  3. Municipal Association of South Carolina municipal compensation survey

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