The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 5:13 pm

Mayor, council pay among highest

Dave Gong The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne’s elected city officials are the highest-paid of any Indiana city with more than 100,000 residents. 

Data collected by The Journal Gazette show that Fort Wayne’s City Council members are the highest-paid of the four largest Indiana cities, which include Indianapolis, South Bend and Evansville.

The Fort Wayne council’s salary in 2014 was $22,279 for each council member. That amount will remain the same in 2015, since the council in December chose not to approve the typical 2 percent annual raise for the council and the mayor. 

For workers in Fort Wayne, the estimated median for individual earnings is $28,771 per year. 

Serving on Fort Wayne’s City Council is a part-time job, and all of the current council members have other sources of income. Councilman John Shoaff, D-at large, for example, is an architect. Additionally, Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said some council members donate all or a portion of their council salaries to charity. 

Crawford said he donates his entire council salary to the Fort Wayne-based Questa Education Foundation.

Even though he won’t be getting a raise this year, Mayor Tom Henry still makes more than the mayors in any of the other three largest Indiana cities. 

Fort Wayne’s City Council will make $2,341 more than the Evansville City Council in 2015. It will make $3,131 more than the South Bend City Council. 

Crawford said that generally, approving small incremental raises each year is easier than approving a large salary increase every 10 years. It’s easier for the public to swallow.

Over the years, the raises kept compounding until Fort Wayne’s council became one of the highest-paid in the state.

"I don’t know how, historically, it got to that level, but then it was just adding every year the 2 percent that kept it there," he said. 

The biggest difference in council salaries is between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, where the base pay for the 28-member City-County Council is $11,400. Council members in Indianapolis also receive per diem pay for meeting attendance and receive extra compensation if they chair any committees. The Fort Wayne City Council does not receive any kind of per diem pay, Crawford said. 

The issue of council and mayoral pay in Fort Wayne was brought to Crawford’s attention during the city’s fiscal policy discussions, and again during collective bargaining discussions last year, which he said prompted him to propose freezing the salaries for the foreseeable future. 

Since the City Council is forbidden by state law to decrease mayoral and council salaries, freezing them was the only option, Crawford said. Locking in the current pay rate for a few years gives the salaries in Indiana’s other cities a chance to catch up, he said. 

Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, a presumptive mayoral candidate this year, described increasing the mayor’s salary on a percentage basis as "unconscionable" because the mayor’s base salary is higher than that of other city employees. He said he’s voted against every pay raise for the City Council and mayor in his seven years as a councilman. 

"I see much more interest in handing out benefits to people who are already making it in life and shifting the burden to people who have more modest incomes," he said. "Council pay and mayoral pay sends a powerful message to our residents." 

Harper also took aim at his fellow councilmen, most of whom voted to freeze their pay for 2015. 

"They could have voted (to freeze council and mayoral salaries) in non-election years," he said. 

Crawford said it makes sense that bigger cities would have higher pay for their mayor and City Council than smaller ones, because there are more constituents per representative, more work and more responsibilities. 

"There are more things to keep track of," he said. "Big cities are harder to run than smaller cities."

While there are no requirements for the number of meetings or community events a councilman is required to attend, Crawford said it’s safe to say just about every councilman is either working on district-related tasks or attending events in their district every day. 

In Fort Wayne, there are, on average, 42,749 residents for each of the councilmen representing the city’s six council districts.

Each of the three at-large council positions covers the city’s population of 256,496 people. 

Even though the difference between the Fort Wayne council’s pay and that of other cities is a matter of a few thousand dollars, that’s not the case for Fort Wayne’s mayor, who typically makes upward of $20,000 more than the mayors of the other three largest Indiana cities.

Henry’s salary in 2014 and 2015 is $128,593 – the second-highest in the state behind Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. 

This year, Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke will make $100,534, $28,059 less than Henry will make. 

The differences are similar for South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg’s 2015 salary, as well. Buttigieg’s salary this year is $102,440 – $26,153 less than Henry, who also makes $33,593 more than Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard. Ballard’s base salary is $95,000. 

"With city government being a large employer, we need to ensure we have specialized skill sets for people in important positions in all of our divisions," mayoral spokesman John Perlich said. "We need to make sure we have competitive salaries for the professionals we’re not only trying to retain, but attract to serve in city government positions."

Other city government positions earn similar pay to that of the mayor. City Controller Pat Roller, for example, made $118,364 in 2014. Parks Director Al Moll earned $112,780. Director of Public Works Bob Kennedy earned $103,849 in 2014. 

Crawford said part of the rationale behind the mayor’s salary level – which was increased in 2007 by 30 percent from $104,504 to $120,000 per year – is so that the position is attractive to the most-qualified people possible. Crawford did not support the 30 percent mayoral increase in 2007. 

"(The council) actually did want to have a high mayor’s salary, because we want people that maybe come from backgrounds where they could make more in other areas," he said. 

Perlich agreed with Crawford, noting that other executive-level positions – such as leadership at the Allen County Library, Memorial Coliseum and school superintendents – earn salaries similar to, if not more than, the mayor’s. 

"I think we’re looking at really a competitive balance there on how we can best utilize our resources," he said. "The mayor of a city is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year job. It needs someone who loves the city and plans not only day to day but for the future as well." 

Perlich also noted the salaries for the mayor and the council are not issues that garner many complaints from Fort Wayne residents.

"We don’t usually get calls or concerns from the public about the mayor’s salary or the council’s salary," he said. "But there are a vocal few in the community who have just recently expressed concerns."

It’s hard to broadly state what constitutes an appropriate salary for elected officials in individual cities and towns, said Jennifer Simmons, deputy director and chief operating officer of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. 

"We believe issues like the setting of salaries are very much local decisions that are hard to paint with a broad brush," she said in an email. "So many local factors go into determining salaries that it’s really hard to comment on what is right or wrong for all communities."

However, the association does try to help municipalities with salary decisions. An annual salary and benefits survey conducted by the association helps provide comparative pay and benefits data for Indiana cities each year, Simmons said. 

Heading into 2015 and beyond, Crawford said it’s possible that the mayor’s salary, and that of the council, will remain the same.

"I know I’ll probably vote to keep the salaries where they are for a few years and come back and revisit them after everything evens out," he said.

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