Should the Wauwatosa mayor get paid more?
That question was vigorously debated within the city 18 months ago.
But with the next mayoral election coming next spring, the topic is back - and it looks to be no less contentious this time around.
Several aldermen who attended the Employee Relations Committee meeting Tuesday called the mayor's pay of $22,500 annually - a salary that hasn't changed in 27 years - an embarrassment, pointing out it is far less than a living wage. Had that salary kept pace with inflation over the years, the mayor would now earn more than $50,000.
At the same time, they admit it's hard to justify boosting a salary when the city faces a $2.6 million budget shortfall and many of its constituents are struggling through their own economic pressures.
"What we expect of the mayor is worth a whole lot more than what we pay them," Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan said. "But I'm hearing from constituents that it's not a good time to give a raise."
Still, as the lowest paid mayor sitting on the same commissions and boards as higher paid counterparts, it puts the city's leader in an awkward position, she added.
"You can see this is a difficult issue," Berdan said, asking that the full committee be in attendance - Jill Organ and Brian Ewerdt were absent - when a recommendation for the Common Council is made.
The matter was placed on the panel's agenda with the intent of allowing staff members to find out what information the committee members wanted prepared in anticipation of a July discussion. But the discussion went much further Tuesday.
Overall, most of the council members who spoke favored a small raise just to acknowledge the importance of the position.
"To not keep up with inflation is kind of shameful," Alderman Bobby Pantuso said.
However, he admitted to being torn on the issue and said he wants there to be more discussion.
"I'm not opposed to the mayor getting a raise, someday," he said. "We were going to wait until budget conditions got better. They have not gotten better, in some ways they are getting worse."
In the past 18 months, the salaries of all public employees have come under heightened scrutiny, and the state and local budget outlooks have only become tighter. That has Alderman Jeff Roznowski wanting to end any discussion on increasing the mayor's pay.
"We'd be crazy to spend more than two seconds on the subject," he said.
Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich holds the opposite viewpoint. She wants to see a wage that reflects a full-time position and would draw a qualified and dedicated pool of candidates to run for office.
Unless the candidate is supported by another family member or is independently wealthy, the low salary limits who is able to consider taking the job of mayor, she said.
"There's a lot of big issues that need a lot of dedication," she pointed out.
Should mayor be part time?
State law and local ordinances define the mayor as being the city's CEO and head of the Police and Fire departments. The mayor also gets involved in creating the annual city budget, helms Common Council and Plan Commission meetings, makes committee and commission appointments and has veto power. And, of course, the mayor receives numerous calls and emails from constituents, developers and others doing business with the city, and is often requested to appear at local meetings and events.
Perhaps some of those duties need to be taken away so the post truly is a part-time commitment, said Alderman Peter Donegan, who heads the committee. That would leave the mayor enough time to have another job. He is troubled by a clause in city ordinance that prohibits a mayor from taking on employment that would interfere with the elected role.
Shrinking council could help
Donegan was not alone in his interest in reviewing the mayor's duties and considering restructuring the position. Most of the aldermen present at the meeting said they still aren't sure whether the post of Wauwatosa mayor is full or part time, not do they feel clear on what the expectations for the position are.
Alderman Dennis McBride suggested reviewing the Common Council size again. He said he could see bumping mayoral pay to $30,000 if the number of aldermen was reduced.
Right now, 16 aldermen - two per district - serve. Cutting that number in half would save $33,600 per year, which could go toward higher pay for the mayor and help with the budget gap.
"Do we really need 16 alderpeople?" McBride asked. "I really don't think we do."
WHAT: The Employee Relations Committee will discuss whether to increase the mayor's pay for the 2012-16 term
WHEN: 7 p.m. June 28
WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.
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