Wichita City Council members will get an automatic 2.3 percent pay raise without a vote on Thursday, courtesy of an obscure 11-year-old charter ordinance.
It’s a raise that has split the council, with two turning it down and at least three leaning toward taking it. The entire council has declined raises the past three years because the city couldn’t afford employee raises.
Council members make $34,866. Council members Janet Miller and Michael O’Donnell have declined the new raise.
Miller said the council pay increase is reasonable.
“However, I have decided to decline the increase given the recent motion I made to reduce funding to neighborhood services, specifically cleanups, as a way of sustaining transit routes that would have otherwise been cut,” she said.
“It’s not right for me to take a raise with the budget issues we have,” O’Donnell said.
Mayor Carl Brewer, who makes $82,654, and council member Jeff Longwell said they’re leaning toward accepting the raise, although Brewer said he understands the refusals in a tight economy.
“Personally, I haven’t had a raise since I’ve been mayor,” Brewer said.
The mayor, the only full-time council member, defended any council members who accept the raise, saying they’re part-timers who work full-time jobs.
“These people work hard. I can tell you I see most of them early in the morning, throughout the day, and I see most of them late at night,” Brewer said.
Longwell agreed, saying council members should at least take the raise and donate it to charity.
“The economy is coming back and we’ve said we won’t take a raise until we were able to give our employees a raise,” Longwell said. “I don’t want to let people think we’re not in recovery mode. We need to start projecting, as ourselves and an organization, that we’re going to heal. We’ve lived within our budget and we haven’t had to raise taxes or balance without dipping into reserves. … If you want to set an example, take the raise and donate it. There are a lot of charities in town that need help.”
Council member Pete Meitzner said Friday he’s debating how to handle the raise. Council member Lavonta Williams didn’t return calls seeking comment.
“It’s insignificant in terms of what we make,” Meitzner said. “With the gas I run through going to meetings that aren’t required, I’d rather have an extra tank of gas a month, to be perfectly honest.”
In 2001, the council and then-mayor Bob Knight passed two charter ordinances to rapidly increase the salaries of the mayor and council. At that time, the mayor received $31,282 annually and council members $14,845.
Under the terms of the ordinances, the mayor and council each received $5,000 pay raises in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and annual cost-of-living increases after that equal to the increases in the consumer price index issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. Council members also get unspecified vehicle and cellphone allowances.
That action wrapped up at least two years of discussion about council salaries, with then-council members voicing concern that the paltry pay was a disincentive to seek the office.
When that discussion began in 1999, then-council member Joan Cole said she worked 40-hour weeks as a part-time council member.
“But if I had a problem with that, I wouldn’t have run for office," she said in an Eagle story. “ … We don’t need to make it a sacrifice for people to serve."
Council member James Clendenin said that 13 years later, Cole’s logic is one big reason why he’s accepting the raise.
“I think we need to make this a viable position for service-minded people to do this some day,” he said. “I had a full-time job and I no longer work there to devote time to this position, and a lot of regular Joes like myself can’t consider doing this.”