Put brakes on pay vote before Nov. 6 election

Timing is everything in politics, and sometimes even the most reasonable idea can be wrong when presented at the wrong time.

That's the case with a proposal to raise the compensation for Hilton Head Island's Town Council members and mayor. The council might be due more money for the long hours and hard work they put in. The pay hasn't been increased since 1996. Still, with an election deadline looming and little time for public debate or input, this idea should wait.

The proposal is to more than double the mayor's pay from $10,400 a year to $25,000 a year and take council members' pay from $7,800 a year to $12,800 a year. Council members also receive meeting stipends of as much as $3,000 a year. The mayor receives an extra $500. That would increase to $5,000 a year for the mayor and mayor pro tem and $4,000 for other council members.

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

The council's last pay raise in 1996 bumped compensation 15 percent.

The argument for more pay in 1996 and today is that it would help attract more working people to a council long dominated by retirees. But the nine candidates for the three seats up for election in November filed for office under the current compensation plan, as did all of the already-seated council members.

This pay raise might be a long time coming, but in the public's view, things are moving too fast.

Under state law, a pay increase can't be put in place until after the next election. That means if the council doesn't approve it before the Nov. 6 election, a pay increase would have to wait another two years. Town manager Steve Riley expects to bring a proposed ordinance to the council on Tuesday.

The last election was two years ago. Three weeks before the next election is not the time to take this up.

Perception also is important in politics. Most of us, including people who work for the town, have not seen any pay raises or only very modest raises in recent years as a result of a far-from-stellar economy. Very few get to vote themselves a raise.

The $53,000 a year that it would cost the town is not the point. Town Council needs to slow down, hear from the public and make their case before a vote is taken. That should come after the Nov. 6 election, not before.