Rochester City Council members caught the spirit of giving Monday night when they voted in favor of a huge pay increase for themselves.
If the pay raises become final next month, the council president's salary will jump from $27,743 annually to $66,565, while other members of the council will have their salary go from $27,712 annually to $52,560. The mayor's salary will increase from the current $37,657 to $78,840.
Yes, you read that right: The increases would more than double the current salaries, all at once.
Predictably, the proposed increases have set off a firestorm on social media, among neighbors and around water coolers. Who gives themselves that size of a raise? The arrogance, considering the struggles of so many in our community, is breathtaking.
Now, we do agree with several points in favor of pay increases for the mayor and council members. The city is growing rapidly, the duties are taking up more and more time, the issues are more complex, the lack of civility from some constituents is no doubt exhausting. The hours can be long and packed with meetings, background study and ceremonial duties.
Given all that, the current pay is perhaps too low.
We also agree with the notion that a higher salary might make the positions more attractive to a wider pool of candidates. A vibrant, rapidly diversifying community would seem to benefit from broader representation.
So again, the current pay is perhaps too low.
But we keep coming back to that more-than-100-percent increase -- in one fell swoop, no less. It's too much, too soon.
Granted, the rates of pay are tied to potential fluctuations in the federal area median income for a single Olmsted County resident, and thus the salary could conceivably go down at some point. But that's only after the raises are already in place.
There are some obvious solutions that might answer the concerns of taxpayers and elected officials alike:
-- Approve pay increases, but at a much lower rate than 100 percent.
-- Phase in the raises over a period of years, rather than all at once.
-- Have the raises take effect after the next election for each seat. That way, council members will not be automatically granting themselves a pay increase, and they will have to run for office again before receiving a raise.
In the grand scheme of the city budget, these pay increases, which would total $260,000 in 2020, are small change.
More importantly, however, they symbolize a disconnect between elected officials and those they serve.
We believe it would be appropriate, and welcome, for the council to take a second, more considered, look at the proposed pay increases.