ALAMOSA — In a 4-3 vote Wednesday night, the Alamosa city council asked staff to begin drawing up a ballot question to increase council compensation.
Voting for the motion were Councilors Charles Griego, Michael Stefano, Jan Vigil and Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero. Voting against it were Councilors Ty Coleman, Kristina Daniel and Liz Thomas Hensley.
The last time Alamosa officials’ compensation was increased was 1998. Currently councilors receive $400 a month and the mayor $600 a month. At their next meeting the council will discuss how much of an increase they will be asking of voters this November.
Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said the council could plug in specific numbers or set up the increase so it would tie into the Consumer Price Index (CPI.)
Mayor Lucero said he thought a straight number would be best, “a moderate increase, not an exorbitant increase.”
Councilman Vigil asked if placing this question on the ballot would cost any more than the city is already planning to pay for participating in the election this November, and Alamosa City Clerk Holly Martinez said it would not. The city will have council seats on the ballot and possibly questions regarding marijuana, if petitioners gather enough signatures to place the questions on the ballot.
Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks said this topic has arisen over the last few years, and the city staff conducted a survey of comparable communities: Monte Vista; Durango; Trinidad; Delta; La Junta; Fort Morgan; Lamar; Montrose; and Gunnison.
She said the average compensation in those municipalities was $383 a month for council members and $514 a month for the mayor; and the median of those communities was $233 monthly for council members and $400 per month for the mayor.
Some communities like Gunnison, Montrose, Durango and Trinidad provide similar or greater compensation to their councilors and mayors than Alamosa: $900/month for councilors and $1,000/month for the mayor in Montrose; $500/month for councilors and $600/month for the mayor in Gunnison; $867/month for councilors and $1,117/month for the mayor in Durango; and $550/month for councilors and $850/month for the mayor in Trinidad.
La Junta gives councilors and the mayor no compensation. Fort Morgan provides $100 a month compensation for councilors and $200 a month for the mayor while Lamar compensates councilors $200 a month and $400 a month for the mayor, and Delta compensates councilors $100 per month and its mayor $150 a month.
Closer to home, Monte Vista city councilors receive $233 a month and the mayor $310 a month.
Other benefits provided in the communities surveyed ranged from health insurance on some level in Durango, Delta and Fort Morgan to ipads in Gunnison.
Brooks also told the council what their compensation would look like if the council had received increases based on the Consumer Price Index since 1998. The CPI was about 2.7 percent. If the city applied that CPI to the $4,800 annually councilors have received since 1998, they would now be receiving $7,684 a year ($640/month.)
Councilman Griego thanked staff for putting these numbers together. He said it has been close to 20 years since the council and mayor received an increase, and although “I know we are not here for the money … by the same token it takes a lot to do this job.”
He said it does cost councilors to serve the city. He added it had been 20 years since the last increase, so it might be time to ask voters for a compensation increase.
Serving on council the longest, Griego said he remembered when the compensation was $50 a month.
Councilor Daniel suggested the increase the council received 20 years ago might have been too high at that time since it looked like Alamosa was still comparable or higher than communities of similar size now.
She said, “We give time and energy to this job. It is very much a job, but it is one we signed onto knowingly to serve the public. I believe our compensation is fair. I think we are paid reasonably for the size of the community and the time it takes to do this job.”
Councilor Hensley added that the city pays mileage, hotel and per diem for Alamosa councilors to attend Colorado Municipal League (CML) conferences and events.
“I look at that as an additional benefit,” she said.
She added, “We are able to have a strong presence at these events.”
Other communities are not as well represented, she added, because their council members have to pay their own way.
Mayor Lucero said, “This is an item I really believe the citizens of our community need to weigh in on. Twenty years without a stipend increase is probably a long time.”
He added, “We don’t get paid for everything we do.”
He said fuel costs, for example, have gone up since 1998, and all the trips back and forth in town add up.
“This summer we have had a lot of meetings,” Lucero added. That may not add up to a lot of fuel, but it is a lot of time, he said.
He said although councilors do this willingly, he was willing to ask the voters for a stipend increase.
“If they are willing to give a stipend increase, wonderful, and if not, that’s just fine as well,” Lucero said.
Councilman Coleman said, “Unlike Mayor Lucero, I am not willing to ask the taxpayer for a raise. I think we are adequately compensated.”
He said he would rather see pay raises go to filling potholes instead of councilors’ pockets.
Councilor Stefano said as a business owner it costs him to attend conferences on behalf of the city, even if the city pays for the conference, because he has to close down his business during that time.
“It costs me a lot of money,” he said. “When I go to CML I have to shut down my business for four days.”
He added he was not complaining but was making a statement.
City staff will bring a draft of the proposed ballot question to the council’s next meeting July 19.