Omaha’s mayor needs a raise, members of the Omaha City Council say. Their only question is how much more the city’s chief executive should be paid.
Mayor Jean Stothert, serving her second four-year term, just got her first pay raise as mayor this year, to $104,358. She’s set to get an additional 3% a year through 2022.
City Council President Chris Jerram recently proposed extending that 3% annual raise through 2026. Under that plan, the mayor would then make $124,645.
But some council members say Jerram’s proposal doesn’t go far enough, fast enough. They use data from other cities to argue that Omaha’s mayor would still be underpaid.
Stothert cut her mayoral salary in 2013 while still serving on the City Council. Stothert had just won the mayoral election but hadn’t been sworn in yet.
As a candidate, she criticized then-Mayor Jim Suttle’s budget decisions, including pay raises for some Mayor’s Office employees. At the time, the city faced a budget shortfall of more than $13 million. Stothert proposed a 10% reduction to the mayor’s pay.
The council agreed to reduce the mayor’s salary by about $11,000 a year and freeze it for four years at about $102,000 a year.
A later council, in 2015, approved the 3% annual raise for the mayor that took effect this year. Now some on the council want Omaha’s mayor to see a more substantial pay increase.
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Council members Aimee Melton, one of the mayor’s closest allies, and Ben Gray, who disagrees with Stothert often, say the mayor should get more than the 3% that Jerram has proposed.
Melton and Gray cited a council study of comparable cities that found that Omaha’s mayor makes about 18% less than the median pay of mayors of similar-size cities.
Only Colorado Springs paid its mayor less, with an annual salary of $103,370.
Several cities, including Albuquerque, New Mexico, pay their mayors thousands of dollars more a year. New Orleans and Tampa, Florida, pay more than $160,000 a year.
Stothert told The World-Herald in a recent interview that she would not object to a raise for whoever is the city’s next mayor, as long as the council is reasonable about the size.
She said that she didn’t request the raise and that she sees the job as public service. She said she understands that taxpayers are footing the bill.
“It’s up to the council if they want to do that comparison,” Stothert said.
But she did compare the mayor to “the CEO of a large company.”
Melton, Gray and Councilman Rich Pahls said they and council staffers have spent months studying the appropriate pay for the mayor.
Melton said she doesn’t like the message it sends that Omaha’s first female mayor makes less than her predecessor, even though that was of Stothert’s own doing, or less than other mayors in comparably sized cities.
“She manages a billion-dollar budget,” Melton said. “The pay needs to be commensurate to the job that’s done.”
Pahls pointed to Omaha-area leaders in education and public utilities who make double or more what the mayor is paid.
The Omaha public school district pays its superintendent a base salary of $300,000 a year, he noted. The Omaha Public Power District pays its CEO more than $500,000 annually.
Council members said they understand that there’s a political cost associated with paying public officials more. The mayor, Pahls said, would pay a political price if she asked for a raise.
“I’m no rubber stamp for the mayor,” said Pahls, who voted against the city trash contract backed by Stothert. “But we need to get the salary up.”
Stothert said making a decision now about pay for the next mayor boosts transparency and gives the city time to budget for additional costs.
She has not yet said whether she intends to run in 2021 for a third term as mayor. People around her are already raising money.
Jerram also proposed extending the council’s current 3% annual raise through 2026. Members make about $38,000 a year today. They would make $45,537 in 2026.
“It’s reasonable, responsible and in line with what other city employees are getting,” Jerram said.
Public hearings on Jerram’s proposals are set for 2 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Legislative Chambers of the City-County Building at 1819 Farnam St.