Government

Iowa City considers council wage increase, health care option

Mayor hopes better benefits open up possibilities for those with lower incomes to run for office

Iowa City Hall in Iowa City. (image via Wikipedia)
Iowa City Hall in Iowa City. (image via Wikipedia)

IOWA CITY — Iowa City Council members may have more pay and access to health care starting in 2020.

The seven-member council is expected to vote on the final reading of an ordinance at its Dec. 4 meeting to increase the council members’ salaries and give them access to the city’s employee health care plan. If passed, council members would earn $11,960 while the mayor would received $14,950, increasing annually for inflation.

Salaries are currently at $7,259.20 for council members and $8,278.40 for the mayor.

The first reading passed 6-1, with council member Mazahir Salih in the negative. And the second reading passed 5-2, with Susan Mims switching her vote to no in addition to Salih.

In a memo to the council in September, City Manager Geoff Fruin outlined the salaries and health care offerings to councils of the 10 most populous Iowa cities as well as Coralville and North Liberty.

The current Iowa City Council salaries fall below most of those top 10 cities, with Ankeny and Council Bluffs just below at $7,000 and $7,200, respectively. A comparable city in population, Sioux City, pays its mayor $15,000 and council members $13,000 and offers access to city employee health care.

Fruin’s memo “showed that we were pretty far down the pack,” Mayor Jim Throgmorton said.

“The increase that we ended up recommending to go forward with in an ordinance is kind of in the middle of the range,” he said. “We don’t think we’re coming up with an extraordinary increase.”

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As a starting point for the new proposed salaries, Throgmorton said he used the city’s minimum wage of $11.50 per hour and a baseline of 20 hours per week for council members and 25 for the mayor.

As far as health care options, if the ordinance passes, the council would have the option to buy into the city’s health care plan at the part-time employee rate, which is $511.98 for the city and member to split in half for single coverage each month. The family rate per month is $1,494.93 or $747.47 for the city and member each, according to Fruin’s memo.

Throgmorton said the idea of increasing the salaries came about while discussing the city’s strategic plan priorities earlier this year. He said if the city can increase salaries and provide health insurance, more people may considering serving on the council, not just those who are retired or have a large full-time salary.

“As it is now, the salaries are so low that it really only attracts a pretty limited set of people,” Throgmorton said. “The main purpose is to make it more viable for people with lower incomes to consider being elected and serving as a City Council member.”

Mims said she changed her mind on the vote because she “had never been convinced” council pay was an impediment to people with lower incomes seeking a seat. Instead, she said she thinks time and child care are more of a concern, adding that the council’s Tuesday night meeting schedule already rules out the possibility of second-shift workers serving on council.

“I’m also very concerned about this becoming like a paid position where people kind of see it as a job,” Mims said, adding that Iowa City’s form of government provides for a full-time city manager with professional staff to help run the city. “I don’t want to see people running for City Council so that they can get health insurance. ... I just think philosophically this really has been and should be more of a volunteer type position.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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