Aurora City Council ponders ballot measure to bump salaries for mayor, council members


AURORA | Aurora city council members and the mayor will likely ask voters this fall to increase the salaries of city lawmakers and mayor.

The city’s management and finance policy committee unanimously agreed Thursday to move forward with an ordinance that calls for a November ballot measure that would increase the annual salaries for Aurora’s elected officials.

Because the salaries for city council are set in the city’s charter, any changes to those numbers require voter approval.

Members of the policy committee — At-Large Councilman Brad Pierce, Ward V Councilman Bob Roth and Ward II Councilwoman Renie Peterson — tentatively suggested Aurora’s 10 city council members and the mayor should receive a 33 percent increase in their pay. That suggestion would result in city council members annually earning $18,550, while the mayor would make $80,000. The city’s mayor pro tem, a position currently filled by At-Large Councilwoman Angela Lawson, would earn $20,550 a year.

Currently, council members earn $13,950, the mayor makes $60,226 and the mayor pro tem nets $15,953.

Council salaries were last modified with a voter-approved charter amendment in 1993, while an additional tweak was made to just the mayor’s compensation three years later.

At that time, council salaries were set at $8,293.92 per year and the mayor pro tem’s compensation was set at $9,483. The mayor’s salary was set at $11,847 in 1993 and changed to $40,000 in 1996.

Council members salaries have increased in the past 20 years due to adjustments made for cost of living increases calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor Consumer Price Index. That stipulation would remain in place if the new measure is approved by voters.

At the committee meeting, Peterson said the pay bump should be sizable due to the infrequency with which the city tries to make such charter amendments.

“If you’re going to ask for an increase, make it worth it because when was the last increase — I mean, 20-something years ago? So it probably won’t come back to the voters again for another 20-something years,” she said. “Also, consider not to set it so high that it’s an expectation that council has to be a full-time position, because then that makes it more difficult for council members who like to do this, but want to hold a full-time job doing something else.”

Many city council members either hold day jobs or are retired.

Peterson added that better compensation could result in better candidates running for local office.

“More of an increase will bring, hopefully … higher-caliber candidates in the future,” she said.

Compared to 17 other Front Range municipalities, Aurora is the only city with a council-manager form of government and a full-time mayor. Because of that, compensation for the city’s mayor is much higher than most neighboring cities with a council-manager format.

Cities with a strong mayor model of government pay their mayor significantly more than council-manager cities. The state’s two largest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, which are both strong mayor cities, who essentially act as city manager, pay their mayors $171,197 and $103,370, respectively according to Aurora city documents.

Council member Pierce, who chairs the management and finance committee, said Aurora has dramatically changed since city council salaries were last updated, and alluded officials should get paid more for dealing with a larger constituency.

“What we have going on in Aurora now is much different than what it was when the salary was set in terms of general activity and development and issues,” he said.

Compared to about 20 cities with populations between 300,000 and 400,000 across the country, Aurora is most compatible with Stockton, California, which has both a council-manager style of government and a full-time mayor like Aurora. In Stockton, the mayor earns $72,384 and council members earn $16,529, according to Aurora city documents.

Roth said his constituents are often surprised when he reveals how much he earns for serving on city council.

“The few times I’ve had a conversation with any constituents on, you know, what we do … they’re always shocked that, you know … it’s not a better paid position,” he said.

The proposed ordinance and accompanying ballot measure will now be discussed at an upcoming city council study session.