Should Milton’s elected officials get pay raise?
At least, it’s an issue Mayor Tom Chesmore wants the city council to consider.
This week, Chesmore urged the council to consider voting for increases to the annual amounts the city pays the mayor, city council and municipal judge.
Chesmore pointed out that the council hasn’t approved a pay raise for elected officials since after the 2008 election, when it agreed to a $100 monthly increase.
That raise was short lived. The council voted to kill it during budget planning the same year amid a sharp decline in the economy.
“I figured after five years, it was time to bring it to light again,” Chesmore said.
He acknowledged that with a tight city budget and a tepid economy, the idea of raises for elected officials probably wouldn’t be “publicly or politically popular.”
The council has tabled the idea with some members opposing it, but Chesmore suggested he will bring the issue up again during budget planning.
Some on the council estimate they put in as many as 30 hours a month at council and city committee meetings and often spend several hours a week outside of City Hall plowing through documents and handling constituent concerns.
Chesmore and others on the council have estimated that for what they do, the pay amounts to pennies an hour.
“Prison inmates get paid more than we do,” Chesmore said during a meeting this week.
According to a city of Milton analysis of several municipal governments in Rock County, some elected officials earn twice what Milton’s mayor, municipal judge and city council members make.
For instance, Evansville Mayor Sandy Decker is paid $4,500 a year. Compare that to Chesmore’s annual compensation of $2,000.
And while Milton alderpersons pull down an annual wage of $1,200, some city councils are much better paid. Take the Beloit City Council, whose members earn $2,500 a year plus a $200 monthly expense account.
Janesville doesn’t have a mayor and doesn’t pay its council members.
Town of Fulton supervisors elected this week will earn $5,000 a year, according to town records. According to Town Clerk Connie Zimmerman, the town’s supervisors attend one to four meetings a month.
Records show Milton Municipal Judge Kristin Koeffler is paid $4,000 a year. Koeffler, who is not a lawyer, spends about six hours a month hearing municipal cases, according to city records.
By contrast, Evansville, which requires its municipal judge to be a state-licensed attorney, pays Municipal Judge Thomas Alisankus $10,400 annually, according to city records.
Tuesday’s election had three Milton City Council seats up for re-election, and none was opposed. Alderman Don Vruwink suggests that current pay rates for elected officials could be deterring people from running for office in Milton.
Vruwink, who is a retired teacher, said he believes the city should look into paying its elected officials more. He suggested $50 to $100, but he did not specify whether that would be a monthly or annual increase.
Under state statute, the current council can’t give itself a pay raise. Any adjustment to wages of elected officials could not go into effect after the spring 2013 election, and that’s assuming the council voted on a change before its next budget is set Nov. 30, said Nancy Zastrow, city clerk.
If the council made a change after that date, it could not take effect until after the spring 2014 election. Zastrow added that the municipal judge seat is on a four-year term and isn’t eligible for a pay increase until 2014.
Not everyone supports Chesmore’s idea of raises.
Milton Alderman Brett Frazier, who was elected as a write-in in 2009, pointed out the city had to cut spending last year. He said it might have to scrape again to balance the coming budget.
“These budgets are so tight,” Frazier said. “I’d rather see the city’s money put towards a need rather than to tack on more pay for those of us who volunteer, essentially.”
Frazier pointed out that Janesville City Council members get paid nothing.
Alderman David Adams also opposes a raise. He said he was unaware city council members were paid until after he was first elected in 2008. He believes the office should be more about community service than extra pocket money.
“If you’ve got to entice people financially to run for office, it’s the wrong approach,” he said.