Bellevue City Council members showed little appetite Tuesday evening for voting themselves an eleventh-hour pay raise.
The council voted 4-2 against the $6,000 raise that had been proposed by Councilman Pat Shannon.
“I don’t look at this as a job, I look at it as volunteering,” Councilman John Hansen said before voting against the measure.
Bellevue City Council members are paid $11,000 a year, and the mayor receives $17,000 a year. The pay hike would have increased that to $17,000 for council members and $23,000 for the mayor.
In recent years, several metro area governing bodies have approved pay raises for their councils, including Omaha, Ralston, La Vista, Council Bluffs and Douglas County.
The $37,378 that Omaha council members are paid will increase next year. Council Bluffs council members are paid $7,200 a year, and in two years will see that rise to $12,000 annually.
But what made Bellevue’s proposal different from the path taken by Omaha and the Bluffs, for example, was Shannon’s suggestion that the council waive the customary deliberation period between an initial proposal and final vote. Typically six weeks or more can elapse between the two, which allows time for research and public comment.
Instead, Shannon asked his colleagues to dispense with the waiting period, hold the public hearing Tuesday night and then vote.
A combination of state law and local ordinance govern how council raises are to be implemented. For the raise to have gone into effect this year, it would have had to have been proposed at the Oct. 8 City Council meeting — if the council was to follow its customary processes.
Because Shannon didn’t make his proposal until Nov. 13, those deadlines meant the raise couldn’t have gone into effect until 2020. The only way around that was to suspend the customary multiweek deliberation period.
“This is why it all got capsulated into one meeting,” Shannon told to his colleagues. “There was no nefarious intent other than legal pushing us.”
Bellevue Councilman Paul Cook cited the last-minute nature of the proposal in casting his no vote.
“If we want to bring this back sometime next year, we can,” Cook said. “The dollar amount is too much. ... And I know this was an election year, but why didn’t someone tackle this six months ago?”
In addition to Cook and Hansen, voting against the raise were Thomas Burns and Jim Moudry. Shannon and Don Preister voted for it.
A handful of residents who spoke on the issue and acknowledged that serving on the council is a tough job. But for some, the process left a bad taste.
“Usually I’m against things that take more money from taxpayers, but after hounding at least three members of this council, I have come to learn they take a lot of garbage from people,” one resident said, voicing his support.
Another spoke against the last-minute nature of the vote, describing it as self-serving.
“I have the strongest aversion to (it),” the man said. “This is an obvious attempt to circumvent the council’s own policies ... and shows an eagerness to feather your own nest.”
Bellevue and Grand Island are similarly sized cities, with populations of about 53,000 and 52,000, respectively.
The City Council in Grand Island has routinely and unsuccessfully tried to raise its pay, said Mike Paulick, who has been on the council there for six years.
Grand Island council members are each paid $7,800 a year, and Paulick said he’s OK with that. The mayor receives $16,000 a year.
“When I ran for council, I knew what the pay was. It wasn’t like I was doing the job because I wanted the money,” he said. “If that’s the reason you’re running for council, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons.”
Paulick said the council routinely revisits the issue of pay but hasn’t had enough political agreement to increase it.
Down the road in Kearney, population of about 34,000, the mayor receives $3,000 a year and the council members $2,000 each.
In Papillion, with a population of about 20,000, council members earn $12,685 a year and the mayor earns $25,370.
In Ralston, a city of about 7,300 people, a vote two years ago boosted council pay to $7,380 a year and mayoral pay to $21,000.
Lynn Rex, executive director of the League of Municipalities, said council members routinely out-work their level of compensation.
“I don’t know of any city official or village official that would tell you other than the fact that when they took office for the first time, they realized the job ... takes much more time than they thought,” she said.
In cities with full-time mayors, like Omaha, Council Bluffs and Lincoln, the pay reflects that.
Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh is paid about $100,000 a year and said a significant share of that money is folded back into mayoral duties. If he attends a dinner or a golf outing in his official capacity, he pays his way; he doesn’t have an expense account in addition to his pay.
“It wouldn’t be unusual for me to have two or three events a week and spend about 500 bucks,” he said. “My theory has always been that these (salaries) are taxpayer dollars and they should do the work of the taxpayer.”
Walsh spent 16 years on the Bluffs City Council before becoming mayor, and he took a similar view to pay then, too.
“The argument is: ‘Is it true community service? Or do you do it for the paycheck?’ ” Walsh said. “At $7,200 annually, it’s pretty much community service.”