Pay Hike for City Politicians Is On Hold
Ald. Chantia Lewis delays vote on 13.6% raise she and some other colleagues want. Mayor threatens veto.
A proposal to raise the salary of all City of Milwaukee elected officials by 13.6 percent by 2024 has been put on hold.
The Common Council’s Finance & Personnel Committee voted 3-2 to endorse the raises last week. But with the proposal before the full council Monday morning, its sponsor, Ald. Chantia Lewis, moved to send the file back to committee with no explanation.
After the meeting, Lewis told the press she didn’t want to discuss it and have it be a distraction from the election. “We can definitely have a robust conversation about this after tomorrow,” Lewis said.
In an interview Saturday morning, Mayor Tom Barrett told Urban Milwaukee he would veto the file as currently configured.
Sending it to committee gives Lewis and other sponsors time to lobby their colleagues and possibly coalesce around a different raise amount.
Elected official pay has been frozen since 2008, with council members earning $73,222. The proposal would grant a four percent increase in 2020 and three percent a year for the three following years. The total raise for council members would be $9,990 or 13.6 percent by 2024.
“I’m not asking for us to jump up to 100 something thousand. I’m just asking for a slight increase,” Lewis added.
Alderman Michael Murphy is opposed to the proposal. “One of the comparisons I really look at is the median salary for someone in the city of Milwaukee,” said Murphy. He noted that the council salary is already over two times the $36,000 median salary. That’s before factoring in the travel allowance and other factors that push council members closer to $80,000 annually.
Ald. Terry Witkowski is also opposed to the proposal. “I think it is demoralizing to say we will give you one percent and (we) will take 13 percent,” Witkowski told the finance committee. The city has given out a series of small pay increases to employees since the state enacted Act 10 which effectively reduced take-home pay by increasing employee health care and pension contributions.
“It’s not something we are saying is for us,” said Lewis. She noted that the council can’t give itself a raise, but can only grant a raise following the next election, scheduled for the spring of 2020.
Turnover on the council, however, is quite slow. Eight of the 15 council seats have been held by the same individual since 2008. Over the same period only two incumbent candidates have been defeated.
City budget director Dennis Yaccarino cautioned against the changes. “I don’t disagree with wage increases. I understand them fully. One issue I hope you remember though is that our growth in revenue has been flat and our tax levy amount we can increase is small,” said Yaccarino. “There is pressure, there is a consequence of this.”
A breakdown of the existing compensation and raises for every elected office, including City Attorney, Municipal Judge and City Treasurer is available as a PDF.
The Mayoral Salary Cap
One reason stated by Lewis to raise salaries is to improve the city’s ability to hire top administrators. No city employee can make more than the mayor.
Under the proposal, the mayor would see a raise from $147,335 to $167,437 by 2024, clearing the way for commissioners and other appointed officials to also see a raise.
Instead of giving the mayor and other elected officials a raise, Murphy proposes just eliminating or altering the cap. “I think that can be fixed fairly easily with an ordinance change,” said the longtime alderman.
The city will have to grapple with its current cap while it pursues replacements for the Superintendent of the Milwaukee Water Works and the position of City Engineer. Outgoing superintendent Jennifer Gonda made $113,277 in 2017, while her peer in the much smaller Oak Creek, made $116,168 in 2015.
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