The City Council’s annual pay is about to increase.
Six of its seven members voted Tuesday to up their annual salaries from $26,291 to $35,925. The move brings the council’s compensation in-line with the original 4:1 ratio with the mayor’s pay that was established in 1980.
Last week, District 5 Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall told City Weekly she wanted to see more diversity on the council and that some people she asked to consider running said they couldn’t because of financial reasons.
"It's about access to a democracy," Mendenhall said. "Serving on the city council is a wonderful experience to be able to represent your neighborhoods, and as we grow as a city, it's important we keep our diversity."
During Tuesday’s meeting, council members discussed the time they put into their council jobs and how it dilutes from other parts of their lives, but they also recognized their roles’ public-service aspect. District 3 Councilman Chris Wharton, who’s served on the council for one year, said he initially sought office “not knowing there was any compensation” and did not expect the topic to come up. But he said he soon became aware of the time commitment the job requires.
“It’s an incredible amount of time and it’s an incredible amount of personal sacrifice, not only for us as individuals but for our families,” he told the council. “When I look at my colleagues, I see salaried employees, I see business owners, lawyers. I see people who are able to make the sacrifice with their families because they have the privilege of being in that situation and they have the privilege of making that choice and making that sacrifice.”
Wharton went on to say “there are still so many voices we’re not hearing from,” such as teachers, hourly employees and those in other jobs such as sales and retail who might not have time to serve on the council.
“To say this should be about public service, that’s right; we’re doing a service for the community,” Wharton said. “But we also have to remember that we’ve come with a certain amount of privilege and the price we pay for that is a lack of diversity of the people that are able to serve on this body.”
When the city first established its current form of government in the ’80s, the council’s pay was designed to represent a quarter of the mayor’s salary, which then was $39,000. That office’s salary has since risen to more than $143,000, while the council’s plateaued at $26,000. While the council has previously declined to raise its pay, this time around was different.
District 6 Councilman Charlie Luke mentioned he’s previously spoken against the idea of raising the council members’ pay. “I have said we should not be increasing council compensation while we have other issues that are far more critical,” he declared. Luke also explained that raising one’s own pay can be “an unpopular thing to do” and that “we don’t want to be on the record as supporting a compensation increase for ourselves.”
“I actually don’t think now is the right time and I don’t think there ever is a right time to do this,” Luke told City Weekly on Wednesday via phone. “I think there is always going to be a fine line between public service and doing something purely for compensation—I don’t think at this 4:1 ratio it incentivizes anyone to run for the revenue, but it brings us in line with what was intended 37 years ago.”
Luke, whose full-time job is executive director at the Utah Association of Community Services, said while he knows the time council members put in is more than a quarter of the mayor’s time, he is still “adamantly opposed” to the idea of the council becoming a full-time position. He did vote for the increase, though, saying he was OK sticking with the original ratio.
“We’re never going to hit a point where we say, ‘Hey, this is a perfect time to do this,’” he said. “I figured now was as good of a time as any to do it if we were going to do it. If not, we need to quit talking about it.”
The ordinance passed by a 6-0 vote. One council member, Derek Kitchen, was absent as he prepares for his move to the state Senate in January.
Only one local resident, George Chapman, spoke in opposition to the raise during the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s meeting. Chapman said he didn’t think the council should be increasing its salary right now “because it’s wrong to increase your salary. It’s unethical and an insult to the taxpayers.”
He asked that that money go toward law enforcement and city streets.
One member, District 1 Councilman James Rogers, proposed an amendment that would have postponed the pay increase until the next election cycle. The amendment, however, failed, and the pay increase will take effect in January.