AURORA | City lawmakers last week reversed a measure that would have bypassed asking voters to pay city council members $100 stipends for some committee meetings they attend.
Council members voted 9-1 to table the measure April 28, with councilman Bob Roth voting to keep it.
“We started to get emails from constituents that said this is the wrong way to go,” said Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier. If the measure had been approved, it would have provided the pay increase without having to go to voters.
Councilwoman Barb Cleland, who voted for the measure when it first came to the council floor on April 14, said there were too many unknowns for it to move forward.
“If we’re going to be making more money, I want to know what my job is,” she said. “Are we going to keep a city-manager form of government? What will be council’s job if we decide to change it? If council ends up being a weak council, why should we get paid more?”
Marsha Berzins, who also voted for the initial measure, said she voted down the second version because a clause that would have repealed the stipends if council received voter approval for a pay raise before 2017 was not included.
Earlier this year, Councilwoman Renie Peterson introduced a proposal that would ask voters in November to increase council pay from around $13,000 a year to $40,000 a year, and the mayor’s pay from $56,000 a year to $80,000 a year. That proposal, which was also scrapped, suggested changing Aurora to a strong-mayor form of government to better manage the city’s growing population.
“Aurora is in a unique class of cities in state,” said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. “There are only three cities with a population over 250,000. Those are Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs.”
Mamet said Aurora is unique in other ways. It’s the only city out of the three to operate under the council-manager form of government, where council members set legislative policy and the budget, and a city manager carries out the day-to-day operations with a city staff.
Mamet said the fact that the Aurora mayor has a full-time position while serving a mostly ceremonial function with the power to create and break ties on council votes, is also unique. In the Aurora charter, the mayor can only vote on an ordinance to create or break a tie for Aurora’s 10 council members.
Both Denver — population 634,265 — and Colorado Springs — population 431,834 — operate under a strong mayor form of government, where the mayor holds significant budget and administrative authority. They are the only two cities with this form of government in the state.
According to CML data, Denver City Council members are full-time and receive $78,173 annually, and the full-time mayor receives $145,601 annually. That is in addition to health and retirement benefits.
Colorado Springs does not employ full-time council members and pays them $6,250 annually in addition to providing ancillary benefits. The mayor, who is full-time, receives an annual salary of $96,000. Both positions have additional health and retirement benefits.
Aurora council member salary falls far below Denver’s but above Colorado Springs.
In addition to receiving $1,089 for what is set at 100 hours of work each month ($13,071 per year), council members receive a car allowance of $760 and $225 monthly for tech-related expenses such as cell phones and iPads. The mayor’s annual salary is $56,379.
Aurora council members who have served a minimum of six years are also qualified to receive an elected officials pension plan when they retire. Under that plan they receive up to $75 per month for each year of service completed. The number of years they can be compensated at is capped at 12, meaning most longtime council members can receive a maximum of $900 a month when they retire. There are some exceptions.
The retirement age varies, depending on when the city council member was elected. The age for council members elected prior to January 2001, is 60; council members elected after January 2001 but before November 2013 can start receiving the pensions at age 56. And for those elected after November 2013, the retirement age is 62.
Council members from Broomfield — population 58,298 — a city-county Aurora has been watching closely as a model for how to form its own, are paid less than Aurora council members at $7,200 annually, while the Mayor, who is not designated as full-time, is paid $9,600 annually. Both positions receive minimal benefits.
“The last time there was a pay increase was about 20 years ago,” Mayor Steve Hogan said of both council and mayor’s salary. “It was tough because there’s this perception that if you put something on the ballot, it’s just about trying to get money instead of trying to get paid for work you’re doing … I think what’s going to happen some time in the next decade, there is going to be a ballot question, and it’s going to come forward because of how big and complex Aurora is and will be.”