The committee charged with recommending a new pay scale for Evanston’s elected officials moved today toward calling for a 54 percent pay hike for aldermen over the next four years.
Data presented by city staff showed how the cash compensation for aldermen has risen from $2,250 in 1977 to $12,990 this year. Plotted against changes in the consumer price index over that time, it shows that aldermen now take home 47 percent more on an inflation-adjusted basis than they did four decades ago.
Despite that, a majority of members of the compensation committee appeared to agree that aldermen are grossly underpaid for their part-time job.
Member Robin Simmons proposed the increase to $20,000 by 2020, arguing that the current pay scale makes it difficult for people of modest means to consider running for office.
Two other members of the committee — Alvin Telser and Sue Calder — appeared to support an increase along those lines, although Calder said she had some concern about whether substantially higher pay might attract some poorly-motivated candidates. “I didn’t vote for an alderman at one point, because I knew he was only running for the income. I didn’t think he was doing a good job,” Calder said.
The committee’s fourth member, Todd Kihm, proposed limiting the pay hike to the percentage increase granted to the city’s non-union employees — which this year amounted to 2 percent.
“The job hasn’t changed, everybody going in understands it’s not a full time job, So give them a cost of living increase,” Kihm said. He added that there was no shortage of candidates seeking appointment to two recent aldermanic vacancies.
Evanston aldermen already make substantially more than aldermen or trustees in most communities of similar size.
In addition to a larger cash payment, Evanston aldermen also qualify for health insurance — 90 percent paid for by the city — which on average more than doubles their total compensation. Most other communities in the region don’t offer health benefits to their trustees or aldermen.
The committee considered a proposal from Kihm to turn the health insurance benefit into cash compensation for the aldermen, which they could then use to buy into the city’s health insurance plan.
If total compensation per alderman was capped at $30,000 a year, Kihm suggested, many aldermen would be able to take home more money without increasing the overall cost of aldermanic compensation to taxpayers.
Because the city’s health plan requires a far smaller contribution by employees than most private insurance plans, aldermen who might be able to qualify for insurance through another job of their own or through a spouse’s coverage, have a financial incentive now to shift the full cost of their coverage onto the taxpayers. If they could take the cash instead, they could insure through their spouse or other job, and come out money ahead.
But Telser raised a variety of objections to the concept — including concerns about what would happen if health insurance premiums rose during an alderman’s term of office — and the committee ultimately dropped consideration of that approach.
The committee also reviewed responses to a survey in which aldermen anonymously reported how much time they claim to devote to city business each week. The responses, received from seven of the nine aldermen, ranged from 10 to 20 hours to “80 percent of waking hours.”
The committee is scheduled to meet again at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 17.
Whatever the committee recommends, it will be up to the aldermen themselves to set the pay scale later this year for city officials who will be selected in next April’s election.
Aldermen could get ‘cafeteria’ pay plan (4/19/16)
Panel eyes doubling aldermanic pay (4/5/16)
Panel to consider pay hikes for aldermen (3/31/16)