“These kinds of positions should be accessible to everybody,” Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney said while discussing pay for members of Morgantown City Council.
“I don’t think blue-collar employees or hourly employees should be kept out because of time and money commitments.”
Dulaney has already announced he will not seek a third term in his 5th Ward council seat in April. A big part of that decision, he explained, came down to balancing the substantial time commitment for what is considered a part-time position on council with a family and his career as an educator at WVU.
“I’m on my way out the door, so I don’t have anything to gain or lose by putting this on the table. My decision has nothing to do with money. I don’t think people get into this for the money, but you look at all seven council members, added together, make about what one county commissioner makes,” Dulaney said. “I think this is an issue. This would be a full-time job if we let it. If it’s done right, it’s way closer to full-time than part-time if you’re properly engaged.”
Morgantown City Council’s last pay increase was approved in October of 2005. At that time, the pay to attend the two regular meetings each month was raised from $125 to $250 per meeting for councilors ($6,000) and from $150 to $350 ($8,400) for the member serving as mayor. Council is not paid for the monthly committee of the whole session on the last Tuesday of each month.
To Dulaney’s comparison, the annual pay for a county commissioner in a Class I county is $41,396 for what is also considered a part-time position. The pay for commissioners and other elected officials at the county level was raised by the W.Va. Legislature in 2014.
In Wheeling, the current council is the first to receive a pay increase in more than two decades after a 2018 vote by the previous council — and a subsequent vote by residents on the needed city charter amendment — to adjust council pay from $8,500 to $14,799.98. The mayor’s pay went from $11,300 to $19,699.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2018, Morgantown has a population of 30,995 while Wheeling has 26,771 residents. Morgantown operates under a city manager form of government in which council selects a mayor from among its members. Wheeling operates under a city manager/mayor plan in which the mayor is elected at-large by voters and presides over council.
In Morgantown, and commonly in most city charters, any vote to increase council pay cannot take effect until after the next election. It’s also common that such a vote cannot be taken within a certain window prior to an election.
Zack Cruze is Morgantown City Council’s 3rd Ward representative. He too is not seeking reelection after accepting a position that will take him away from Morgantown and West Virginia.
He agreed that the amount of time needed to be an effective councilor compared to the compensation provided is a barrier to entry for many, particularly single parents and people who don’t work traditional office hours.
Cruze said he has to work full-time and take on additional jobs to make ends meet.
“When you have someone like me, who’s having to work full-time and take on odd jobs to get by, that’s different than a council full of individuals who aren’t working full-time. And I don’t think that council is representative of our community,” Cruze said. “In Morgantown, 16% of our community faces food insecurity. We’re not a community where everyone can just take two or four years off of work to meet the needs of council.”
The city of Huntington operates under a strong mayor form of government. In 2019, Huntington City Council unanimously approved a pay raise for the mayor, from $85,000 to $114,500. Council members, who make up to $7,200 annually, were given a 6% raise. Those raises take effect in 2021.
Charleston, a city of just over 47,000, also operates under a strong mayor system. The council there raised the mayor’s annual salary by $25,000, to $125,000, starting in 2019, and bumped council pay from $200 per meeting to $250, with an annual cap of $7,000.
Like Morgantown, Fairmont operates under a city manager. The city of 18,411 raised its pay for mayor ($300/meeting) and council ($200/meeting) in 2015.