Lawrence's population is growing, but the salaries of the five city commissioners who govern it have not.
Mayor Boog Highberger said Tuesday he believes it is time to consider giving a significant pay raise to city commissioners and the mayor.
"I know that some people have had to take a substantial cut in income to do the job," Highberger said. "I think that really discourages some people from seeking office. I want to make sure the job is open to not just people who are independently wealthy."
Highberger said he'd like his fellow commissioners to consider boosting commissioners' salaries from $9,000 per year to $15,000 per year and the mayor's salary from $10,000 to $20,000 per year.
Highberger, though, said he thought any pay increase should not take effect until new city commission terms begin. In other words, current commissioners wouldn't receive a pay increase unless they were re-elected.
The last time city commission salaries were adjusted was in 1999, when they were increased from $6,000 per year and the mayor was given an extra $1,000 per year. Highberger said he would like to see the pay issue become part of the city's 2007 budget process, which will begin in the summer of 2006.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he's open to having the discussion. He said the time that is required to do the job well has increased since the time he first served on the commission in the late 1980s.
"One of the biggest things is the population is a lot more than it used to be," Amyx said. "That creates more phone calls, more people wanting to have meetings."
Highberger, who works as an attorney for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, estimated he spent about 30 hours per week on city business. He said he had not yet had to cut his hours at KDHE, but said it would create a financial hardship if he ultimately were forced to do so. Highberger said the new salary structure would make it more feasible for a mayor or commissioners to cut back to part-time status with their regular jobs while serving the city.
He said the balancing act, though, was to not create a system that encourages people to be full-time city commissioners.
"I think everyone's life experiences makes them a better commissioner," Highberger said. "I think it would be unfortunate if we lost that aspect."
Amyx, who owns a barber shop in downtown, said he agreed it probably was difficult for many people to serve, especially if they did not have flexible work schedules. But he said the city should do more research on what other communities pay elected officials before the city makes any changes.
Amyx said he thought a committee, made up largely of nonelected officials, should study the salary issue and report back to commissioners. City Manager Mike Wildgen said he already has begun requesting information from area cities. He expects to have a report detailing other cities' salary structures this fall.
A quick check with two of Lawrence's neighbors found that city council members in Topeka are paid $10,000 per year and the mayor is paid $20,000 per year. In Olathe, council members are paid $5,400 per year and the mayor is paid $7,200 per year.