Mayor, city aldermen receive hefty pay raise Survey shows increase isnâ�?�?t out of line By David Lias
Editor When the Vermillion City Council approved the city's 2009 payroll resolution at its Monday meeting, it included something extra for itself. Mayor Dan Christoph-erson and the aldermen who serve on the council will receive rather significant raises in the annual compensation they get for serving local taxpayers. That's how things appear at first blush. However, a survey of South Dakota communities of similar size shows that, even after the significant raise, the city council's annual pay lags far behind. Last year, Vermillion's eight aldermen each were paid $4,000 annually, and the mayor received $8,000. The city council agreed, after the budget process was complete last August, to increase its compensation – aldermen will receive $5,500 this year, and the mayor will receive $9,500. Those are pay raises of 37.5 percent and 18.75 percent respectively. They also represent perhaps the biggest acceleration in city elected officials' pay in recent history. Still, the Vermillion City Council is far from leading the pack when it comes to aldermen pay. According to research of 2008 city council compensation done by Christine Hibbeler, director of research and training for the South Dakota Municipal League, nearly every community close to Vermillion's population pays its city council and mayor significantly more. Huron, population 11,900, compensated its mayor in 2008 with approximately $23,100. Huron's four city council members each received $14,500 last year. Mitchell, population 14,500, pays its mayor with an annual salary of approximately $23,000. Its eight council members each earned just short of $8,000. Pierre, the home of nearly 14,000 citizens, pays its mayor approximately $18,000. Its four council members each received nearly $9,400 in 2008. Spearfish, population 8,600, pays it mayor $19,500. It's six city council members each receive $10,000 annually. Yankton may have a larger population than Vermillion, but in 2008 the compensation it gave to its city council more closely resembled Vermillion's pay rate. Last year, the Yankton's mayor received approximately $7,200 annually. Its eight aldermen each received about $6,000. Vermillion City Manager John Prescott said last August, while the city council was in the budget process, staff prepared a data that compared other cities in South Dakota that had a city council/city manager form of government. "We provided that information on Aug. 12, and we gave them information regarding other cities that don't have council/manager form of governments," Pre-scott said. "It's tough, because its hard to say exactly what makes sense for a particularly community, and what they have for city staff or administration. It depends on what you are comparing them (other cities) to." Historically, people who decided to seek office on the Vermillion City Council haven't done it for the money. In 2005, aldermen were paid $2,250 annually and the mayor received just under $5,500. That increased to just over $2,300 for aldermen in 2006, and $5,700 for the mayor. Annual pay for the city council in 2007 increased to $6,000 for the mayor and $3,000 for aldermen. Prescott said it is nearly impossible to determine the demands that holding elective city office brings to each individual. Certainly time is involved, and he said city staff likely could figure out how many hours the mayor and aldermen spend in meetings by reviewing minutes. "It depends on the individual council member, perhaps on how well known or visible or vocal he or she may be, so I think it depends a lot on the council member and it depends a lot on the issue," he said. "There have been certain council members where they have been more at the center of an issue or they have been more involved with a specific issue than other issues that might come up. "And so much of the time that they spend on it is outside of city hall," Prescott said. "I have no idea in terms of constituent contact if its an hour a day, if its five minutes, if it's five hours. I have an inkling that they spend some significant time with constituents at times depending on the comments they make."