A proposal by Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez to increase the mayor’s salary by 150 percent and Alders’ salaries by 50 percent beginning next year was met with opposition and ultimately tabled indefinitely — in effect, defeated — at last night’s Common Council meeting.
The resolution would have increased the mayor’s salary from $10,000 per year to $25,000, alders’ salaries from $5,000 to $7,500, the Council president’s salary from $5,500 to $10,000 and the municipal judge’s salary from $15,000 to $20,000. The resolution proposed the salary increases take effect in May 2019. The increase would add $39,500 per year to the city’s budget.
Several alders expressed surprise at the resolution, saying they were not consulted on the proposal. Some were especially skeptical in light of contentious budget deliberations last fall, when a longstanding City grant of $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County was cut.
“I guess I’m wondering what the rationale is when we’ve had multiple meetings with our financial advisers, lots of discussions about the financial outlook of this city,” said Council president Dan Carpenter. “Funding got pulled from a local nonprofit last fall, $50,000. We were told we have to rein in our budget a little bit. I’m wondering why all of a sudden is there money to increase salaries for all of us sitting up here?”
Gonzalez noted that salaries for Fitchburg elected officials have not increased since 1997.
“The city has become more complex, requiring more and more time of everyone up here,” Gonzalez said. “The optics might not look good but the reality is this wouldn’t come into effect until the 2019 election cycle so this wouldn’t impact us.”
Gonzalez also said elected officials’ salaries in Fitchburg are not in line with similar municipalities nearby.
“I picked the numbers arbitrarily based on our comparables looking around Dane County and other counties around the state,” he said. The text of the resolution noted that the mayor of Sun Prairie is paid $20,000 and the mayor of Middleton is paid $14,400.
In an email to Madison365, Alder Dan Bahr estimated he spends 15 to 20 hours per week on city business, meaning his $5,000 salary works out to about $6.41 an hour at the most — well below minimum wage. In that email he also said he would not support a pay increase.
“A lot of times I don’t feel very valued up here,” Alder Dorothy Krause said at the Common Council meeting Tuesday. “I don’t know how much an average resident would be willing to do for $5,000. I know I do a lot more than $5,000 worth of work for this city. I don’t do it for the money either, but if money is an indication of value, I don’t think we’re very valued.”
“The Council hasn’t received a salary increase in 22 years,” said Alder Julia Arrata-Frata. “Some of us are working on four or five commissions. Sometimes we have to reach packets that are three, four hundred pages long. We are spending a lot of time. The city is growing, its needs are growing.”
In an interview Wednesday, Gonzalez said compensation for elected officials needs to go up in order for more people to be willing and able to serve.
In the current makeup of city government, he said, “there’s either young people who aren’t married and have no kids, or there are people who are self employed or retired or have no job other than their elected position. There’s an economic disincentive to run for office. A single mom who would have to pay for child care every other week just couldn’t do it. We’ve basically boxed out a whole group of people who can’t run for office because of the economics of it.”
Some alders said there just isn’t money available in the budget.
“This comes down to priorities,” said Bahr. “Priorities. We could barely balance our budget (last year). This next budget is going to be even tougher. I want to be fiscally responsible. We need to respect the taxpayer. This does not respect the taxpayer.”
Others took issue with process.
“When you talk about transparency, it looks really poor to have it come outside the budget process,” said Alder Aaron Richardson.
Ultimately the council voted unanimously to table the resolution indefinitely. Gonzalez said he would convene an ad-hoc committee of taxpayers to study the issue and make a recommendation, which could then be acted upon independently later this year or be included in budget deliberations.
Gonzalez also said he has not yet decided whether to seek a second term, so the pay increase may or may not affect him personally.