Council talks pay increases

By Cameron Rasmusson

Reader Staff

When the Sandpoint City Council tackles its budgeting process next month, members will decide whether or not to authorize pay increases for the next round of civil servants.

Following a presentation by City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton, council members opted to include the pay raises in the proposed budget for consideration. They also requested more information to better compare Sandpoint’s compensation policies against similarly-sized cities.

According to Stapleton, council members have no plans as yet to authorize pay raises for elected officials, and no action has been taken on the matter. However, staff members in the city’s financial department need a maximum allowable budget figure to present to the City Council during upcoming budgeting workshops. While city staff pay raises to market averages are already  in the proposed budget, Stapleton wanted an official directive before including pay increases for elected officials.

“That’s why were seeking staff direction … so we know which direction to go in the budget this year,” Stapleton told council members at the meeting.

Stapleton asked council members to consider the matter after noting that Sandpoint’s monthly salaries — $400 for council members and $1,200 for the mayor — were well below average benchmarks when compared to other District 1 Idaho cities. On average, council members in regional cities like Post Falls, Rathdrum or Coeur d’Alene make $667 per month, while the average mayoral salary is $1,600. Stapleton also noted that these cities use a comparable city structure with a full-time city administrator and a part-time elected mayor.

Before they made any decisions regarding elected official pay in the upcoming budget workshops, council members wanted more information on where Sandpoint ranks compared to similar cities. Councilwoman Deb Ruehle said that while a comparison among District 1 cities was useful, it would be better to compare Sandpoint against cities with a similar population and tax base.

“I would feel more comfortable making decisions based on (that measurement),” she said.

Councilman Tom Eddy agreed with Ruehle’s assessment, saying he wasn’t sure the District 1 numbers painted an entirely clear picture.

The concern was that a larger city’s compensation policies could throw off the averages and make Sandpoint appear further below the benchmark than it truly is. Council members also wanted to know more about the workload expected of elected officials versus the compensation received. In Sandpoint, council members are expected to sit on committees in addition to time spent preparing for and serving in council meetings. Likewise, the Sandpoint mayor represents the city at local events and attends workshops in addition to overseeing council meetings and authorizing bill payments.

“It would be fair to generalize that (work expectations are) similar to what we have here,” Stapleton said.

Ultimately, council members decided to leave their options open in anticipation of budget work this August.

The last time elected officials received a pay increase was in 2014, when the mayor’s monthly salary was increased from $1,000 to $1,200 and council pay increased from $275 to $400. At the time, Sandpoint’s compensation for elected officials was well below the district average. However, the driving force behind the increase was the fact that $275 was not sufficient to cover the benefits package council members received from the city, and they were instead paying out-of-pocket for it. In addition, Planning and Zoning Commission members received a stipend of $30 per meeting, where before they received no compensation.

“What was particularly noted in 2014 … was that most of our council members were in a position that they had to pay for benefits,” Stapleton said.

Should council members approve any pay increases for elected officials this year, they will not go into effect until the next cycle of elections takes place in accordance with Idaho law.

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