North Charleston mayor wants higher wages for city workers

by Ashley Heffernan

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who was sworn in for his sixth term in January, plans to ask City Council to increase the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour. City contractors and private-sector workers would not be affected. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who was sworn in for his sixth term in January, plans to ask City Council to increase the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour. City contractors and private-sector workers would not be affected. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

About 80 of North Charleston’s 1,100 city workers could see a pay raise beginning in January.

Mayor Keith Summey wants city employees to be paid a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and he plans to take his idea to City Council in the fall.

“Unless we’re willing to do it, how can we ever expect anybody else to do it?” Summey said.

The city’s lowest-earning employees are currently making about $10 an hour, the mayor said.

That’s higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but Summey said that’s not enough to afford a home in the region.

“If you’re at $10 an hour, you’re at $400 a week, $1,600 a month. By the time you take your federal taxes, your state taxes, your Social Security, your retirement and the $150 a month for full-coverage hospitalization, you’re pretty low,” he said.

Mortgage lenders advise that a household shouldn’t spend more than 28% of its gross income on housing expenses, so those making $10 an hour would be limited to less than $450 a month for a mortgage payment.

“There’s no homes out there right now that you can get for that,” Summey said.

In April, the median price of single-family detached homes sold in the greater North Charleston area was $177,904, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. That price has increased 10.3% since April 2015.

Across the tri-county region, the median price in April was $240,000, the association said.

Under the mayor’s plan, full-time city employees — city contractors and private-sector workers are not included — would be paid at least $12 an hour beginning in January. Each January thereafter, the wage would increase, hitting $15 an hour in 2019.

Summey said about 80 city employees, mostly in grounds maintenance and garbage collection jobs, would see increases. Those who are no longer in entry-level positions but are still below the $15-an-hour threshold would see an additional wage increase to remain competitive.

“If they are 5% above the entry level, they will remain 5% above the entry level throughout the process,” he said.

If the new minimum is implemented in January, which would be halfway through the fiscal year, the mayor said it would likely cost the city about $90,000 during that first year.

Once the plan is fully implemented at $15 an hour, Summey expects the city will spend an extra $1.5 million a year, which equates to 1% of the city’s budget.

Summey added that he wants to leave any increase in the federal minimum wage to federal and state governments, because of the move’s impact on businesses.

“It’s difficult for anybody to discuss unless they’re willing to set the example,” he said.

This story originally appeared in the May 30 print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

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Ashley Heffernan

Staff Writer
Ashley Heffernan covers residential real estate, higher education, health care, hospitality, tourism, retail, financial services and the city of North Charleston for the Charleston Regional Business Journal. Reach her at 843-849-3144 or via email.