The second of two ballot measures Colorado Springs voters will decide in April’s election would increase pay for city Council members to $48,000. It would be a big increase for them, but as KRCC’s Liz Ruskin reports, even some vocal opponents of the measure say Council members may be underpaid.
City councilors in Denver earn $78,000 a year. El Paso County commissioners make more than that. But Colorado Springs Council members earn just over $6000 a year.
Outgoing Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko says the public sees the job as mere volunteer work. But it usually takes more than 40 hours a week and the duties range from passing laws to hiring for key positions. Czelatdko also notes they oversee Colorado Springs Utilities and its billion dollar budget.
"We also, in our legislative role, appropriate and approve the city budget, which is a $250 million budget. These aren’t volunteer-type responsibilities."
Councilors have discussed pay proposals in the past, but this one came from a group of young professionals, led by 36-year-old Tony Gioia.
"It definitely was not their idea. We, as a group of young professionals, brought it before council to request that they put it on the ballot because we feel that it will help to increase the diversity of candidates moving forward who can then run for council later, including young professionals who typically need to earn a salary in order to support their families, pay the mortgages and such."
Gioia says the idea started with Mayor Steve Bach, who challenged them at a business luncheon to think of ways to get their generation involved in city government.
"Council pay specifically was something that he thought young professionals could grab a hold of and really run forward, looking to get that pay increased."
Mayor Bach, though, does not support this ballot measure. Bach says he challenged the young professionals to “reinvent city Council” looking for ways to make it “more effective, efficient and satisfying.”
"And so in that context I said: 'The last piece of that is compensation but it needs to go with what's the role and what's the responsibility.' They came forward with simply the salary with nothing tied to it. I support higher pay for city council but not a random number that is not tied to any performance standards."
The mayor says pay should be addressed during a charter review that also considers whether council should continue to govern Utilities, among other possible changes. He says he’s not sure what the appropriate salary is but that it could actually be more than $48,000.
Angela Dougan was one of four council members who opposed putting the measure on the ballot. She says supporters should have gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot on their own.
"I felt strongly that this is a pay raise for council. Council shouldn’t have their hands anywhere near it. They should not be touching it any way shape or form."
She and her main challenger in the election, Joel Miller, are both against the measure. But like him, Dougan says she sees merit in the goal.
"I’ll be honest. I got a little convinced. I sort of thought, 'No, no. We don’t need a pay raise. We’re fine.' And I did talk to a lot of people and they did say, 'You guys work very hard. You work for many hours.'"
The ballot measure would set council pay at one half of the mayor’s salary and give them employee benefits, too. It wouldn’t take effect until 2015, so proponent Tony Gioia says the councilors who put it on the ballot would have to get re-elected to receive the increase themselves. His group had raised less than $900 as of last week, including a $400 donation from John Weiss, publisher of The Independent. No group has registered to defeat the measure.