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Salt Lake City Council votes to give themselves a nearly $10K pay bump

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Posted - Dec. 11, 2018 at 9:42 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday gave themselves a late Christmas present — though they knew it wasn't going to be a popular move.

The seven-member council voted unanimously to give themselves each a roughly $9,600 pay raise, increasing their salaries from $26,291 to $35,925 effective in January.

One council member, Councilman Charlie Luke, though he said it was "difficult," changed his longstanding opposition to a council pay raise while the city had other important issues to fund.

Luke fell in line with his colleagues, acknowledging that a council pay adjustment was long overdue after decades of previous councils punting pay adjustments to themselves.

Over time, that's caused a pay imbalance between the council and the mayor, according to city staff.

"A big part of the problem is because of political people like myself who have argued against it in the past because it is an unpopular thing to do and we don't want to be on record supporting a pay increase to ourselves," Luke said. "But because of that, we are in the hole we are in."

In 1980, council members started making about $9,700 each, compared to the mayor's $39,000 — a 4-to-1 ratio. Since then, both salaries have increased over time to about $26,000 for council members and $143,700 for the mayor in 2018, which has widened to a more than 5-to-1 ratio, according to council staff's analysis.

The pay raise approved Tuesday brings the council's pay back to a 4-1 ratio with the mayor's salary.

Councilman Chris Wharton argued in favor of the pay bump, saying it would help increase diversity and access to the council by providing a more livable salary for people who otherwise may not be able to afford to serve on the council without it.

"When I look at my colleagues (on the council) … 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," Wharton said.

"We're not seeing teachers on this board, we're not seeing professors, we're not seeing hourly employees — people who work average retail jobs or sales jobs," Wharton added. "We all have a privilege that allows us to be here and serve."

Wharton said he ran for his council seat without knowing it came with compensation, so he wasn't anticipating a possible pay bump to be considered this year. But Wharton said he's also now experienced how "demanding" the council can be.

"It (takes) an incredible amount of time and an incredible amount of personal sacrifice, not only for us as individuals but for our families," Wharton said.

Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said the salary issue was causing a "longstanding economic diversity gap on this council."

The council's vote came after a brief public hearing, where only two people spoke. George Chapman, a community activist who ran unsuccessfully for Salt Lake City mayor in 2015, was the only one to speak against the pay raise.

"It's unethical. It's an insult to the taxpayers," Chapman said, pointing out Salt Lake City has raised taxes twice this year. Meanwhile, Chapman said police officers continue to go underpaid.

"They're the ones who deserve the pay increase," Chapman said.

Councilman James Rogers, arguing it would give a "fresh start" to a future council, attempted to change the ordinance's effective date until after the 2019 election, but his colleagues shot down the idea.

Luke argued changing the date until after the election would only further "politicize" the issue.

"If we're going to do this, we ought to shut the barn door that has been left open for so long and actually just move forward and make a decision," Luke said.

The council will start receiving its new paychecks in January.

Thanks to wiggle room within the council's existing budget, the council's office can accommodate the pay adjustment without a budget increase this fiscal year, according to city staff.

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