Aurora council members consider asking for a raise in 2023

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AURORA | Aurora’s City Council could ask voters for a pay raise next year under a proposal that would treat membership as a full-time responsibility and, hopefully, proponents say, make the job more accessible to working-class residents.

Salaries for council members, the mayor and the mayor pro tem are defined by the city’s charter, which also provides for yearly cost-of-living adjustments. 

But while preparing for and attending council functions and responding to the demands of a growing number of constituents can take more than 40 hours per week, council members still make less than the annualized minimum wage.

Currently, Aurora council members earn $20,063 per year, while the mayor pro tem earns $22,286 and the mayor earns $86,758.

“The expectation from our residents is that we are available and that we actually have more insight on what’s going on in and around our city,” Councilmember Angela Lawson said while presenting her proposal to a council policy committee Tuesday. “I think we’re losing out on some potential people running for council because they can’t live off of the income we make. They just can’t.”

Lawson argued that low pay creates a high barrier to entry for residents who can’t juggle a full-time job and City Council but have a valuable perspective to bring to the group.

She presented two alternative pay schedules that could go into effect in 2027. Under the first — which was based on the pay of elected officials in similarly-sized, out-of-state cities that also operate under a council-manager form of government — council members would make $42,316, the mayor pro tem would make $59,425 and the mayor would make $89,694.

The second pay schedule — based on an analysis by the city’s Human Resources Department, which also looked at out-of-state cities as well as the responsibilities of the jobs — sets pay for council members at $67,889, for the mayor pro tem at $82,437 and for the mayor at $96,984.

Because Lawson’s proposal would modify the charter, it would ultimately have to be presented to the city’s electorate as a ballot question. Voters last approved a council pay raise of about 33% in 2017, prior to which the salary hadn’t budged for nearly 25 years.

Councilmember Juan Marcano said he left his day job to focus on his responsibilities as an elected official, but said the move was a “tremendous privilege,” enabled by the fact that his wife is also in the workforce.

“When I ran for this position in 2019, originally I thought naively that I was going to be able to keep my day job and serve,” he said. “If I were single, for example, that would have precluded me completely from serving, because I wouldn’t earn enough money to even keep myself housed right now.”

Not everyone was supportive of the proposed raises. Councilmember Francoise Bergan said she believed labeling a council member’s job as “full-time” would make it harder for a candidate to negotiate with their current employer if they wanted to keep their job and hold office.

“You can’t say to your employer, ‘Hey, I’m going to work full-time for you, (and) don’t worry, I’m going to work full-time for council,’” she said. “It’s public service. We didn’t run to make a full-time salary.”

Lawson responded that candidates would need to communicate with their employer about their plans to run for office regardless and that she did not understand why the changes would make it more difficult for a person to keep a job while serving on council.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky said the only way she’d consider supporting the change would be if the city eliminated council members’ travel budgets. On top of their base pay, council members are entitled to an annual travel budget of $7,000 per person, while the mayor receives a travel budget of $11,000.

Mayor Mike Coffman tried unsuccessfully to block council members from using the budget for international travel earlier this year, after Marcano and Councilmember Crystal Murillo’s trip to a suburb of Paris for an urban design conference.

Jurinsky said she disliked the idea of per-diem travel payments and that she had an issue with another unnamed council member receiving a raise, saying that “the one council member currently on council alone hangs the whole thing up for me.”

Marcano also said that fellow progressive Alison Coombs supported the idea behind the proposal but thought the raises for the mayor and mayor pro tem were disproportionate, to which Bergan, who is serving currently as mayor pro tem, agreed.

Lawson’s proposal and the amounts of raises for council members will next be the topic of a public hearing, after which it could move forward to a study session, which Lawson said she hoped would be in 2023. If passed by voters, the raise would go into effect in 2027, she said.

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Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
3 months ago

Let’s see if I have this straight. Lawson’s proposal would allow unskilled people who were either unemployed or making minimum wage to earn a still-relatively low salary as a full-time job. And it would close the doors to successful, experienced breadwinner leaders who can earn a much higher salary for a full-time commitment. Sounds about standard.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
3 months ago

As a radically pragmatic and moderate Independent, I feel we need far more competition in our city elections.

In truth, it’s a full time job and the part-time pay is the deal-breaker for so many qualified candidates.

As a result, we end up with hard ideologues— both left and right — and few with relevant, real world experience.

The most concerning are the driven egos who view council as just their start in politics. We need less ego and ideology and far more wisdom running the city.

Let the market work and set pay competitively. Otherwise this governing body will continue to oversee Aurora’s steady decline.

Michael L Moore
Michael L Moore
3 months ago

Can Jurinski discuss anything without making it a gripe session or a personal issue? Man, I’m tired of her diatribes about tangential issues. We definitely need to make a change next election!

Doug
Doug
3 months ago

we have a city manager running the city. If we are to increase the pay of council members to full time pay then they must be full time and give up any business endeavors they own just like Federal elected officials. We then go to mayor council without a city manager. No mayor pro tem…we have deputy mayor’s right?

Doug
Doug
3 months ago

Oh, and while they are at it, they can tie the city’s minimum wage to this same wage increase package!!

Dean68
Dean68
3 months ago

There is plenty of people that have a well-rounded ability to understand the making of Government policy from their own direct experience of success and failures. These good stewards fully capable to make law recognize they have paid their dues and know the cost of living. Unless they are crazy, why give up a sustainable salary to go backward for a council seat? That’s unrealistic and it limits a significant well qualified pool to draw from. I don’t want my rep living on food stamps and in a subsidized housing project and on every other welfare perk available, because of its salary. This job needs to pay enough making the position attractive.

Emily L Carroll
Emily L Carroll
3 months ago

Do council members and the mayor have to submit “time clock” records of the amount of time they spend doing council/mayoral work? If so, is that open to the public? I’d like to know more about the actual amount of time they spend on their respective council/mayoral jobs. And, where would the money come from to pay those increases?