As City Commissioner Aron Cromwell completes the final days of his term, he has a parting thought: Lawrence city commissioner really ought to be paid more.
Cromwell at Tuesday night’s meeting urged the next group of city commissioners to seriously discuss a pay raise that perhaps would more than triple the current $9,000 per year salary that commissioners receive.
“Right now, I think it would be very difficult for somebody like a schoolteacher or someone with a traditional job to take this position,” Cromwell said. “You probably would have to take a leave of absence to do the job effectively.”
After the meeting, Cromwell said he thought the next city commission should consider raising the annual salary to somewhere between $25,000 and $35,000 per year.
At least two commissioners are open to having the discussion. Mayor Bob Schumm said he thought it is an issue the next commission “should look at fairly quickly.”
City Commissioner Mike Dever — who if tradition holds will be elected mayor by his fellow commissioners at next week’s meeting — said he thought the time was right to consider the issue. The city has not raised its pay for commissioners — $9,000 per year for commissioners and $10,000 for the mayor position — since 1999.
“We don’t do it for the money,” Dever said, “but I agree that the amount of time it takes to do this job is not commensurate with the pay.”
Dever said he would present some information about how much commissioners are paid in other communities. Douglas County commissioners, for example, are paid more than $30,000 a year, he said.
“I would say, at a minimum, we spend an equal amount of time,” Dever said.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx — who recently was re-elected to a fifth term on the commission — expressed concern about boosting the pay.
“We need to make sure that we don’t cross that line of having full-time commissioners down here,” Amyx said. “We are all citizen commissioners, and that is the charter that we operate under.”
Other commissioners agreed that the job should continue to be viewed as a part-time profession. But Cromwell said the salary is likely a barrier to entry for many people. He estimated an average commissioner had at least $4,000 a year in expenses, such as transportation, wireless phone bills, Internet service and other such items that are routinely used as part of the position but aren’t reimbursed by the city.
“I think a salary for a city commissioner ought to be enough to cover our expenses and pay a baby sitter while you are at the meetings,” Cromwell said. “It is not currently.”
On the current commission, four of the five commissioners are business owners, while the fifth — Commissioner Hugh Carter — was a financial adviser with a flexible schedule during the bulk of his term.
Cromwell and Carter both will be leaving the commission — neither sought re-election — after next week’s meeting. Recent election winners Jeremy Farmer, the executive director of the food bank Just Food, and Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician, will be sworn in next week.
In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved $9.7 million in bids for the library expansion project.