Future Morgantown Council raise passes first reading 6-1

Members of Morgantown City Council agree that a $2,400 raise for future councilors is, at the very least, deserved and overdue. 

They point out council’s pay already ranks low among similar regional municipalities and will not have been adjusted for two decades by the time this raise takes effect. 

But some question why it’s become a priority that needs immediate attention. 

The body voted 6-1 on first reading Tuesday to increase council pay from $6,000 to $8,400 annually and the mayor’s pay from $8,400 to $10,800 annually starting on July 1, 2027.  

Councilor Danielle Trumble was the lone vote against the raise, but she wasn’t the only councilor to ask, “Why now?” 

“I’m not sure what it is that makes this more of a priority than the million other things that I feel like we have on the back burner of the docket — an RFP for a warming shelter, discussion of a housing department — lots of other things,” Councilor Brian Butcher said. “Our priorities are massively skewed.”  

Butcher pointed out that even after the raise, the amount of compensation won’t be close to covering a councilor’s time investment and will remain a barrier to entry for many working people. 

Trumble made a similar point. 

“I do think the amount of work that I put in for $6,000 a year is, frankly, comical,” she said. “But I don’t think this is what we should be concerning ourselves with at this time. I don’t think it’s any secret that we have a lot of issues with personnel, staffing, recruitment, retention. We have a lot of staff in the city who also seem unhappy with their compensation, and we as a council have taken no sort of steps to address any of that.” 

She also questioned why the voluntary title of mayor earns a councilor an additional $2,400, adding, “There’s a lot of work that goes into being mayor, but there’s a lot of work that all of us do.” 

Mayor Jenny Selin said the issue is on the agenda now because she placed it there — not to give it priority over other issues but because it’s been contemplated since the city’s 2022 compensation study and, believe it or not, time is of the essence.  

Morgantown’s charter allows the council to set the salary of its members, but any increases cannot be passed within six months of an election and cannot take effect until after each of the voting members’ seats has been up for election. 

Because the city moved to staggered, four-year terms for council members starting in 2021, the city will have to go through two election cycles — 2025 and 2027 — before the raises can take effect. 

The city’s next election is April 25, 2025, meaning the issue needs to be passed before Oct. 25 or any potential raises would be pushed back to at least July 2029. 

“So, it’s something that, at some point, someone has to step up and put it on the agenda, and this council can vote it up or down,” Selin said. “It can be measured in terms of what’s not on the agenda, but yet why is this on the agenda, but it could have been on the agenda two years ago, but it didn’t happen. So, it’s just time. Anyone that wants to knock why is it on the agenda, I put it on the agenda.” 

The raise discussion comes as the body is being pressured to take a more active role in addressing the city’s unhoused crisis. 

Public speakers asked Tuesday why the city is taking up council raises and investing in capital improvement projects while ignoring the life and death situation playing out on its streets. 

“There are things that we are doing. There are priorities that we have. There are meetings that are ongoing. Somehow, we can’t share it or it will not be shared from the people we’re participating with or it’s just not ready for prime time,” Councilor Bill Kawecki said. “I’d like to see a lot of that come to the fore and stop hearing all this crap about how things are not being done or are being ignored when they’re not. We’re trying to do things. This is just another little bit of flack, stupidity, that makes this job harder.”  

In other city news, council passed on first reading a zoning text amendment that will prohibit any new tobacco/vape shops from opening downtown. 

The change will create the “smoke shop/tobacco store” use and restrict such uses to B-5 districts (shopping center) by right and B-2 (service business) by conditional use, meaning it would require the review and approval of the Morgantown Board of Zoning Appeals. 

The city’s downtown is zoned B-4 (general business). 

Included in the proposed law is a provision that mandates smoke shop/tobacco stores be at least 1,500 feet from one another as well as schools or day care centers.