Next month, raises of $7,399 will begin going out to 140 high-level District bureaucrats--an increase of more than 13 percent, to $63,700 a year. This is Mayor Barry's modest little way of saying thank you for jobs well done, "another indication that the District government has achieved fiscal maturity."

Sure, there's a price tag on all this maturity, cheerfully borne by all of the taxpayers--who are only too grateful to pay top dollar for services rendered, even if they sometimes aren't sure what the services have been. The best part, as Mr. Barry has pointed out, is that these raises are "critical to our continuing ability to recruit and retain a highly skilled work force" with "compensation levels which are competitive with surrounding jurisdictions and the federal government."

That sounds just fine, but wasn't one of the selling points for separating D.C. pay scales from the federal schedules that it would allow the city to exercise some restraints, and to readjust some longstanding inequities in the compensation for these top-level people?

It is true that, as a D.C. Office of Personnel study shows, most large cities pay their top executives more than the current District ceiling of $56,301; it is also true that the cities in this ranking are bigger than Washington, and that these comparisons show greatly varying differences, depending on the jobs themselves. For example, the District fire chief's salary ranked eighth among 13 cities surveyed; the police chief 10th; and the corporation counsel 11th.

Some salary comparisons work the other way around, too. The D.C. transportation director is paid $10,667 more than the median for the large cities, third of nine. The director of recreation is paid $7,957 more than the median, and ranked third of eight cities with comparable positions.

So why should city hall be routinely approving across-the-board percentage raises for all these top jobs? If comparability of some sort is important, or if the degree of difficulty of a certain top job makes it worth a higher salary than another job in this top category, make that adjustment. In times of stretched public dollars, taxpayers could do with a little more study, thought and justification when it comes to payroll matters.