Toledo Mayor Mike Bell wants to increase by as much as 20 percent the maximum pay ranges -- if not yet the salaries -- of dozens of the city's best-compensated nonunion employees: deputy mayors, department directors and their deputies, commissioners, managers, and lawyers.
Whatever economic justification the plan offers is outweighed by its negative political symbolism and even worse timing. City Council members should defer consideration of the proposal until Toledo's recovery from the Great Recession is more robust, and until the administration's performance on a broad range of issues offers a more compelling justification for rewarding its top executives.
An administration report to council notes that the pay ranges the mayor seeks to raise have not changed since 1998, while local consumer prices have gone up by 34 percent in the same period. In addition to increasing these maximum salary ranges, the report recommends indexing them annually for inflation.
The salary survey concludes that maximum pay for executives in Toledo's government is generally much lower than the average pay of public employees who do the same work in comparable cities in the metropolitan area, across Ohio, and in neighboring states. In several instances, the report says, high-ranking municipal supervisors earn less than some of their union-represented employees.
These observations are legitimate. But such comparisons ignore other matters that also deserve consideration.
Some council members assert that additional resources for executive salaries would be better invested in public safety, given Toledo's increased homicide rate and chronic problems with arson fires. Many taxpayers likely would agree.
Leaders of municipal unions cite the pay and benefit concessions their members have accepted -- albeit grudgingly -- to help keep the city's budget balanced. They argue that comparisons of relative pay increases given union and nonunion workers do not take into account the disparities that remain between these workers' salaries.
The city's fiscal condition is not nearly as dire as it was in February, 2010, when the then-new mayor gave pay raises to several high-ranking city officials amid a budget emergency. Yet even as Toledo emerges slowly from the recession, many hard-pressed taxpayers are unlikely to muster much sympathy for the plight of better-paid public executives.
In barely two months, Toledo voters will decide whether to approve tax increases and renewals for a host of vital local institutions: city schools, parks and recreation programs, the public library, the children's science museum, and programs that serve young, mentally ill, and addicted people. The city salary plan will hardly put them in a more favorable frame of mind.
The administration is not in the strongest position right now to argue that it must prepare to pay more to keep and hire "good people," given the city's wave of violent crime and the increasing secrecy with which the executive branch does business.
In just the past few days, the mayor's office was forced to abandon its proposal to lend $50,000 to would-be developers of the vacant Southwyck mall site, after Mr. Bell conceded that administration officials had failed to investigate one of the principals adequately.
For all these reasons, now is not the time to increase pay scales for top city officials. Instead, the issue might become a useful topic of discussion during next year's mayoral campaign.