A Virginia House of Delegates committee has backed a bill by Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, to remove salary limits on city councils statewide.
On Friday, the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns voted 16-5, mainly along party lines, to send the bill to the full House.
Del. James Moorefield, R-Tazewell, voted with 15 Democrats to support HB 1108. Dels. Keith Hodges, R-Middlesex; James Leftwitch Jr., R-Chesapeake; Jeffrey Campbell, R-Smyth; David LaRock, R-Loudoun; and Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin, were the dissenting votes. They did not return requests for comment.
State code sets salary limits for members of city councils based on population, ranging from $11,000 to $30,000.
Salaries for county boards of supervisors also are bound by population, with pay for supervisors statewide ranging from $4,000 to $15,000.
The current maximum pay for Charlottesville is $18,000 for councilors and $20,000 for the mayor.
Elected city school boards are governed by the same guidelines.
Hudson’s bill would allow city councils to determine their own salary and, indirectly, allow city school boards to do the same.
Hudson called the vote a “big step.”
“The state cap on city council salaries hasn’t changed in more than 20 years. Just to keep up with inflation, we’d need to raise the caps by at least 40%,” she said in an emailed statement. “Rather than write another stale formula into state code, this bill returns a basic function of local government to the localities. In a commonwealth where cost of living varies widely from place to place, salary schedules can’t be one-size-fits-all.”
Proponents of higher salaries have said that it would remove economic barriers from running for public office. Opponents say that government service is a part-time volunteer position and have cautioned against open-ended salary guidelines.
Charlottesville attempted to receive permission to operate outside the state limits in the 2019 General Assembly session through revisions to its charter, but a bill was never presented in the legislature.
Hudson also introduced a revised Charlottesville charter that includes several technical changes. Among them, it says that councilor salaries will be set in accordance with state code, referring to the section that could be changed under Hudson’s HB 1108. The charter revisions passed the same committee on a 17-0 vote Friday.
State code requires that no changes to the salaries of elected officials take effect until July 1 after the next general election.
If Hudson’s bill ultimately were to become law, members of the Charlottesville School Board would be able to set their own salaries, as well. City School Board members have an annual salary of $4,500 and the chair gets $5,500.
The Albemarle County School Board would remain bound by the limits for boards of supervisors because no legislation has been proposed to change that portion of state code.
No date is set for the bill to be heard by the full House of Delegates.