Janet Williams, the mayor of Savage, said she and City Council members haven’t considered a pay raise for more than a decade. The question “never came up,” she said, in a group that sees the job as public service.
Next door in Shakopee, however, Mayor Brad Tabke lobbied for a higher salary for himself and his colleagues last year, ending up with $1,250 a month, more than double what he earned before. It helps offset the “huge financial hit” his family took when he became mayor, he said.
In Burnsville, the question of raises arose and disappeared in just seconds. No, no, no, no, council members chorused. But in Blaine, the question will hit an agenda because Mayor Tom Ryan wants more money.
“I have been out in the middle of the night,” responding to calls, said the retired truck driver and sod farmer, who has served as mayor for 20 years and already makes more than his counterpart in Burnsville.
Across the metro area, both the attitude toward money and the size of paychecks themselves vary enormously.
There’s movement in some places to nudge the checks higher after a long stretch in which the very notion of a raise seemed distasteful: Cities weathered years of budget cuts and even layoffs at city hall.
Recent salary surveys show a wide range of compensation for elected city officials, ranging from $667 a month for the mayor of Savage to $2,200 for the same job in Bloomington. St. Cloud, the same size as Blaine, pays its full-time mayor $4,200 a month — or about $3,100 more.
In the west metro, some cities have already bumped up their salaries. Edina and Minnetonka will soon see raises. But north and south suburbs have been more cautious. Savage is only now, this weekend, bringing it up at a retreat. Coon Rapids’ mayor last got a raise in 2005; Brooklyn Park in 2008. Lakeville council members haven’t seen an increase since 1999.
After eight years’ stagnation, Blaine Mayor Ryan is asking for more money. The request was met with stony silence from other council members, Ryan said, but he’s plowing forward. It’s on the Aug. 7 council agenda.
“I take pride in what I do. I don’t miss a meeting. It’s not a lavish job. I don’t put on airs, but if someone calls me, I go.” He makes $1,100 a month even though he works nearly full-time at the job.
Ryan said he fields calls 24 hours a day. When residents complained that semis were idling in a parking lot overnight, the mayor said he went out and investigated.
But in Burnsville, longtime Mayor Elizabeth Kautz is content with her middle-of-the-pack salary of $1,000 a month. This summer and in previous years, it took just minutes for Burnsville’s City Council to unanimously dismiss the idea of a raise, though salaries haven’t gone up since 2007.
“This is a job you do because you love it and because you want to make a difference,” she said, adding that city policy says employees’ salaries must stay in the midrange among metro-area suburbs.
Minnetonka’s mayor and council passed raises last fall — the first since 2008. Because state law requires that an election take place between the council’s approval and getting the increase, the raises don’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2016.
The Minnetonka mayor’s salary will increase by $334 a month to $1,250. The council also agreed that staff should discuss the issue of mayor and council pay every four years.
“Obviously, it’s taxpayer money. It’s always awkward to some degree to say, ‘We do deserve a raise,’ ” said Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider.
But keeping the salary competitive helps keep a healthy pool of candidates, he said.
“If we don’t have a salary that is meaningful, we end up with people who are very well-to-do running for the council because they’re the ones who can afford to do it,” said Schneider, who said he works 20 to 30 hours a week as mayor.
This will be Schneider’s first raise as mayor, a position he’s held for six years. He said the pay bump still keeps the city midrange compared to other neighboring suburbs. He is mindful that people still remember the hard times. Minnetonka reduced its city workforce by 6 percent including layoffs.
St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs, whose $1,348-a-month salary is above average, said: “I don’t want just affluent people running for City Council. That’s not right.”
Shakopee’s Tabke believes low pay can also discourage younger people from running. He wants the next mayor to “be paid close to a part-time job,” he said — $30,000 to $35,000 a year.
Not for the bucks
Across the board, mayors and council members agreed that no one was doing it for the money.
“I think if you needed a livable wage, you probably wouldn’t run for elected office,” said Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens.
“I just say, it’s really community service. It’s about taking time out to give something back,” said Bill Coughlin, a Burnsville council member and an attorney.
While it makes sense that bigger cities tend to pay their officials more, it’s hard to pin down why compensation in similar-sized suburbs can vary by as much as $500 a month. Council members typically make $200 to $400 less per month than mayors, but their salaries range just as dramatically.
Salaries are affected by a city’s politics and tradition, Jacobs said.
In Woodbury, Mayor Stephens and council members will see their pay raised to $1,112 and $805 a month, effective in January. Because of the city’s size, Stephens works full-time as mayor, she said.
Most mayors and council members said the job takes 20 hours a week, sometimes more. “It’s about a halftime gig,” Jacobs said.
Perhaps because of the time commitment, many residents don’t realize most elected officials have day jobs, too. And they are “surprised at how little we make,” Coughlin said.
Edina and Plymouth elected officials have figured out a way to sidestep the awkward conversation. Those mayors and councils get automatic raises tied to the Consumer Price Index used by the state Office of Management and Budget.
Even so, Plymouth’s council and mayor declined a 2013 raise, said City Manager Dave Callister. During the depths of the recession, Plymouth laid off 10 percent of its workforce, he said.
Being able to raise your own salary is “an odd situation to be in,” Coughlin said. It can be so thorny that at least one city hired an outside committee to review salaries and recommend whether to give raises, Stephens said. “I think it’s a good idea,” she said.
Council compensation, Tabke said, “is something that nobody likes to talk about, but I think it’s important to talk about.”