City Council 2019

Colorado Springs City Council members pose for a photo with Mayor John Suthers at the 2019 Swearing-In Ceremony. (City of Colorado Springs) 

City Council is a full-time job, so why aren't council members paid accordingly?

It's not the first time someone has asked that, or suggested putting it on the ballot for Colorado Springs residents to decide. The last time was in 2013, and it was soundly defeated at the polls.

Nevertheless, a group that hosted a community event Saturday to gauge support for increasing council pay is hoping to revive the idea and hold another vote on it in November.

Colorado Springs council members are paid $6,250 a year, well behind other comparable cities, said organizer Jake Eichengreen. City Council members in Spokane, Wash., make $41,500. In Omaha, Neb., they earn $38,125, the group's research showed.

Eichengreen and other organizers say higher pay would widen the pool of candidates, producing better representation on the nine-member City Council.

"For us, it was a study undertaken out of a question of access," Eichengreen said. "Council service isn't necessarily something that every qualified candidate can access when pay is $6,250 a year.

"So we engaged with council members, tried to understand the workload and landed at kind of the core question around moving forward with any kind of a compensation issue: whether or not the community believes city council is a full-time or a part-time job?"

Council members in Colorado Springs work anywhere from 40 to 80 hours a week, said initiative supporter Vance Brown. 

"I believe that the City Council should be representative of our communities and the diversity of the community," Brown said. "It makes sense to me that you'd have a salary that would at least allow someone ... to make a living wage for that kind of role if we want to be representative of our constituents."

The "million dollar questions" are how much council members should be paid and where the money will come from. 

"We don't have an answer to it yet ..." Eichengreen said. "I think knowing what the dollar figure is and a compensation package will help us understand where that might need to come from. Raising taxes is not on the table. ... There's been conversations about the city's general fund, sharing some of the cost with utilities. It's very much in that exploratory mode."

The proposal was last on the ballot seven years ago, organizer Anthony Carlson said, but without any "real organization," it was overwhelmingly rejected. The April ballot measure sought to increase council pay to $48,000 in 2015.

Although the same reasoning for increasing council pay was put forth last time, organizers believe the outcome could be different this time.

''That's really been the biggest thing that's been kind of turning people's minds a little bit is recognizing the opportunity lost," Carlson said. "So many of our folks in our city (are) disqualified from serving simply because they still have a mortgage to pay or they still have kids to put through school, or they still have to figure out a way to put food on the table."

For the past two years, Carlson and Eichengreen have been "crowd-sourcing" their research, knocking on more than 700 doors throughout the city and asking residents to fill out an anonymous survey through the group's website, levelupcos.org. The past few months, they've been hosting community events like Saturday's to increase feedback. 

"We essentially broke (the poll) down to a job description ..." Carlson said. "And asked folks if that job description is essentially what they believe our City Council should be doing. ... We're working our best to crowd-source as much of this information as possible so that if we do finally have the community will to go to the ballot, this will be an issue that was sourced by the community and driven by the community. Not the other way around."

City Council members review and approve the city's budget, pass policies and ordinances, and serve on dozens of boards including the $1 billion Colorado Springs Utilities, Eichengreen said.

"We're kind of benefiting right now from luck in having a council that's so dedicated and committed to the community," he said.

If it did pass in November, Carlson said, it would require reelection before the pay increase applied.

"We're trying to see if the community has the appetite that we've been seeing through our research to actually meaningfully increase council pay on the basis of it being a full-time job and really, for a city of this size, being a professional endeavor requiring some level of professional attention," said Eichengreen.

Contact Liz Henderson, 719-476-1623

Twitter: @GazetteLiz

Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist who joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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