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Rochester council goes ahead with pay increases

Rochester City Council members took the next step to giving themselves a raise in January.

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Rochester City Council President Randy Staver, center, during a meeting Monday, May 6, 2019, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.
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Rochester City Council members took the next step to giving themselves a raise in January.  

Rochester resident Othelmo da Silva predicts the planned salary increases will have a negative impact on members.

He addressed the council during a budget and property tax hearing shortly before a vote to more than double elected officials’ pay.

"You must know that the optics, not to mention the ethics, of doing so would be disastrous for your relationship with the Rochester community," he said.

Council members, however, disagreed by pointing to the potential to draw a more diverse set of candidates in future elections.

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"I don’t feel like the people sitting up here represent the people of our community," Council Member Annalissa Johnson said, noting that a lack of sufficient compensation likely discourages candidates.

"If you can’t afford to pay your rent or your mortgage with a $22,000 salary, how can you serve? If you are in that population or demographic that does not make enough money to have this as their sole position, or have a spouse or pension to afford that, it makes it very difficult for people to serve on this board," she said.

In a 6-1 vote, council approved an ordinance that would base elected official’s salaries on percentages of the federally defined area median income for a single Olmsted County resident.

For Mayor Kim Norton, it will be an increase from $37,657 this year to $78,840 next year. Council President Randy Staver’s salary will increase from $27,743 to $66,565, and the rest of the council members will see pay increase from $21,712 to $52,560.

Annual adjustments will be based on community pay fluctuations, which Staver said means salaries will reflect the city’s success.

"As the economy of Rochester succeeds, so might our compensation," he said. "In the last 15 years, I believe AMI has actually gone down a couple years, so if the economy is faltering, our compensation would go down as well."

Council Member Patrick Keane, however, said he struggled with the issue and ultimately decided to oppose the increase, noting he ran for office thinking of the position as part-time, even though recent research revealed it is not officially defined as a part-time or full-time position.

Several other council members said they struggled with the issue and acknowledged it was a difficult decision but pointed to time-consuming aspects of the job.

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Council Member Mark Bilderback said he frequently spends long days attending a variety of community meetings and functions, while also responding to residents calls day and night, as well as on weekends.

He also noted his first five to six years on the council were served without a pay increase, which put the Rochester council members behind their peers.

"This is not about full-time or part-time," he said. "It’s about the work you put in."

Council Member Michael Wojcik said that’s about 50 hours a week for him, but the position also comes with added costs for his family.

He said threats leveled against him for some of his decisions have taken a toll.

"I personally pay for a lot of additional insurance coverage," he said, noting a recent incident also required his wife to take time off work.

He said the people who cause the added expense are a small portion of the community, but it all adds up.

At the same time, he said the added pay will likely make the council more nimble. He said a recent effort could save the city $2 million, but requires fast council action, which is something that is difficult when many members can’t change schedules due to multiple work commitments.

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He noted such savings could pay for eight years of the salary increases.

Council Member Shaun Palmer, who initially opposed considering the salary increase, said he’d been thinking about the time it takes to do the job and ended up voting for the new salary formula, which will be put in place after a second reading in January.

Council Member Nick Campion echoed his fellow elected officials, noting it was a difficult decision, but said it’s not about his salary in the long run.

"This is the right thing to do, not just for me, but for the people who will follow me," he said.

The 2020 salary increases are expected to be funded with nearly $260,000 of the council’s $1.23 million contingency fund, which means it will not change the overall budget, which was approved Monday.

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