(Harrisburg) — The maximum pay for certain local government officials, which hasn’t risen in nearly a quarter of a century, could go up by as much as 68% under legislation moving in Pennsylvania’s Capitol.
That proposed increase in the maximum salary that could be paid to township supervisors, mayors and borough council members under this package of bills, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County, reflects the regional percentage change in the Consumer Price Index since 1995, the last time the local municipal officials’ salary cap was set.
However, municipalities would have to adopt an ordinance for any salary change to take effect. The higher salaries would only be raised after an incumbent stands for re-election or when their successor starts their term of office.
What it could mean, though, is the maximum salary for borough council members and township supervisors in communities of fewer than 5,000 residents could rise to as much as $3,145 a year, from the current $1,875.
Their counterparts in townships and boroughs with populations over 35,000 could jump as high as $7,335 a year, from the current maximum of $5,000, according to the legislation. The salary rates for council members and supervisors in municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 35,000 would fall in between those proposed maximum salary amounts.
For mayors, the legislation provides for an increase that could raise their maximum salary to as high as $4,190 a year in boroughs with a population of less than 5,000 residents, from the current $2,500 a year maximum. Mayors in communities with more than 15,000 residents could be paid as much as $840 a year for every 1,000 residents or fraction of 1,000 residents whereas currently, that cap is $500 for every thousand residents or fraction thereof. Mayors in communities with populations between 5,000 and 15,000 would be eligible to receive salaries that fall between those ranges under this legislation.
Not every borough and township pays the maximum, though. Camp Hill Borough, for example, doesn’t pay its council members or mayor a salary at all.
New Cumberland Borough pays its council members $900 a year and mayor $1,200 a year. Based on its population of around 7,000 residents, the law currently would allow it to pay its council members as much as $2,500 a year each and mayor, $5,000.
David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, said most townships pay their supervisors less than $2,000 a year and also don’t go near the maximum amounts allowed by law.
“It’s not a lot of money for the amount of effort and work they do,” Sanko said. “I don’t think anybody serves in local government for the money.”
The legislation also includes a provision that addresses concerns about elected officials who tend to be no-shows at municipal meetings. It would allow townships and boroughs to change their pay structure to a per-meeting basis so elected officials who miss a scheduled meeting without an excuse would forfeit up to a twelfth of their municipal salary.
This idea is an alternative to a constitutional change that the state House of Representatives passed in June that would allow municipal elected officials to be removed from office if they fail to attend more than 50 percent of scheduled meetings each year.
Martin’s two-bill package is positioned for a vote in the Senate that could occur when the senators return to session the week of Oct. 21. If passed, it would go the House for consideration.
The legislation has the endorsement of the General Assembly’s Local Government Commission which comprises Republican and Democrats from both chambers. Martin said the commission works in a bipartisan fashion with the statewide associations representing municipal governments in crafting the legislation affecting local governance. Both the township supervisors and boroughs associations’ members passed resolution recommending the increase in compensation limits earlier this year and in 2017, respectively.
Martin said he considers this proposal to be non-controversial because it doesn’t force local governments to increase their officials’ pay but gives them that option to do so. Further, it gives them the option to change the pay structure to give officials incentives to attend meetings.
Middle Paxton Township Supervisor Jim Fisher said his township board unanimously opposed the idea of raising the maximum salary cap proposal. Even if this bill becomes law, Fisher said he doesn’t expect his board would vote to increase its members’ pay, currently set at the $1,875 a year. That is the maximum allowable for a township of its size.
“It’s not a full-time job by any stretch,” Fisher said. “It’s never intended to be and I don’t believe citizens get involved in local government because of any manner of salary or money.”
He also doesn’t believe a higher salary would spur anybody to seek a local elective office who otherwise wouldn’t. If it does, he said they are getting into it “for the wrong reasons.”
New Cumberland Mayor Doug Morrow formerly served on Camp Hill’s borough council and mayor and didn’t receive any salary there. So getting paid when he won his elective office in New Cumberland came as a surprise.
“That’s not the reason why I ran. In fact, I donate most, if not all, of that money back to charity,” he said. “I wouldn’t advocate to raise it either. I think somebody in a small community like New Cumberland and Camp Hill should do it for their interest in the community and not for a salary.”
Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott said he is pleased the legislation leaves the salary increase up to the local boards to decide “and then their voters can decide whether it’s appropriate or not” at the next municipal election. Carlisle, a community of more than 19,000 residents, pays its council members the current $4,125 maximum salary allowed for a borough its size while Scott receives $9,342 a year.
As for the provision that forfeits officials’ pay if they don’t show up, Fisher said he supports that idea although that is not a problem with the supervisors who serve with him. Morrow said his only concern about that part is who gets to decide whether an absence from a meeting is excused or not.
Scott, who works for the House Democratic Caucus, said, “My only comment about that is I wish it applied to the Legislature too. … If you’re going to do that to your local officials who are mostly part-time and have full-time jobs like I do and don’t have the benefit of full-time staff, then it should apply to the Legislature as well.”
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