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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City commissioners back away from previous pay raise proposal, but still boost salaries

January 7, 2014

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A pay raise for the Lawrence City Commission won't be as big as once proposed, and none of the current commissioners will receive a raise unless they are re-elected.

Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously agreed to back away from a proposal of three weeks ago that would have more than doubled the annual salaries of city commissioners. Instead, commissioners agreed to raise the salary of a commissioner to $15,000 per year, up from $9,000 currently. The pay for the mayor will increase to $18,000, up from $10,000 currently.

"You can't just look at this as a job," Mayor Mike Dever said. "This isn't a full-time job. We should be compensated to help make up for our time away from work, but this also is volunteer service to our community."

The pay increase is the first for the commission since 1999. Commissioners settled on the new numbers after they looked at how much the average wage for a city employee has grown since 1999. City payroll data showed the average wage per full-time city employee was about 58 percent higher in 2013 than it was in 1999. Commissioners decided to increase the commission's salary by roughly the same amount.

A majority of commissioners two weeks ago had proposed that commissioner salaries be raised to $20,000 per year and the mayor's salary grow to $25,000 per year.

But several commissioners said they had received significant negative feedback about the idea in recent weeks, although public comment at Tuesday's meeting was sparse and evenly split.

Also changed from three weeks ago is that the pay increases will take effect in stages. The three seats up for election in 2015 — currently held by Dever and Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm — will begin receiving the higher salaries following the April 2015 elections. The two seats up for election in 2017 — currently held by Commissioners Mike Amyx and Jeremy Farmer — will get the raise after the April 2017 elections.

Commissioners unanimously approved the new pay structure, but some commissioners expressed concern that the new salaries still wouldn't be enough to attract a broader diversity of candidates to commission races. There have been concerns expressed that people who work in jobs that pay hourly wages are at a disadvantage in serving on the commission.

Commissioners, however, did include a provision in the new ordinance that will require the commission to examine city commissioner salaries every two years.

In other business, commissioners:

• Were briefed on concerns related to a portion of concrete roadwork at the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. Commissioners were told that Lawrence-based Bliss Sports would be required to repair a portion of the entrance to the park, after it was found to not meet proper quality standards. But city staff members also told commissioners that, overall, infrastructure work at the northwest Lawrence park was proceeding very well.

• Unanimously approved a new ordinance requiring pawn shops and precious metal dealers to log the items they buy from the public into a national database aimed at helping law enforcement track stolen property.

• Unanimously agreed to purchase two, 30-foot diesel-powered buses and one 30-foot diesel/electric hybrid bus for the city's transit system. The total cost was $1.275 million, although federal grant money will pay for $1.05 million of the purchase.

• Unanimously approved a $5.6 million contract with Garney Companies Inc. to build a new main waterline from the Kaw Water Treatment Plant to North Lawrence. The waterline will ensure that the city has a redundant supply of water available to North Lawrence.

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