aldermanic-pay-vs-inflation-160503

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.

Related stories

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)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

9 Comments

  1. Aldermanic Pay & 311
    I’d really like to know how 311 plays into the equation here. A number of years ago our alderman were complaining that their gig had turned into a full-time job and the answer to that was the implementation of 311. I was under the impression 311 was going to take a lot of the burden of day-to-day minutia off the aldermanic plate so they could concentrate on the important things. If our aldermen are still working full-time jobs, why not consider keeping the pay the same, but doubling the number of alderman again. (I would think such a move would seriously cut down on the backroom dealing that goes on too.)

    I love 311, but if it isn’t having the impact it was supposed to, why are we keeping it going?

  2. Fewer and lower pay
    Comment said ” but doubling the number of alderman again.”
    =====================
    We cut the Council before and should do it again. In Chicago each alderman represents 40,000, in Evanston 8,000.
    Instead of an increase, there should be a decrease.
    As for 311, the aldermen really wanted it so they did not have to deal with residents. Since they don’t deal with residents anyway—unless politically or financial or ideological related, it would again seem we now need as many aldermen.

  3. Remind us what they ACTUALLY do
    As far as I can see many join the Council to push their one cause—theaters, keep out businesses they don’t like, make shaky loans, give “gifts” to businesses they consider “winners”, keep streets and walks dark but then complain about crime–but no concern when resident complain, propose regulations/fines they know won’t get passed [and they may themselves vote against] as long as voters think they are doing “something.”

    Deal with residents ? Not if they can help it—pass that off to 311. or say “someone [police or other] will address it.”
    Respond to resident’s complaints about Council action ? You have to be kidding. Most you ever get is “thank you for writing” [now drop dead]

    1. I agree. The work city
      I agree. The work city council does is not great. I think if they did a better job of serving their constituents, a pay increase might be more popular. As it stands. I see no reason to pay them more so that they can spend more time on expensive projects that benefit a select few.

  4. aldermanic pay

    Based on Harley Clarke & other projects, our alderpeople are grossly overpaid as it is.

    They all should be voted out of office so we can get a fresh start.    The current council is a total waste.    My opinion & the opinion of most of the owners in my high rise building.

    1. Data driven decision and more

      It may be true that city council members are grossly underpaid for the work that they do, but this article does not allow the reader to make any judgments, since there is no data.  I would like to see some better evidence of the amount of time that aldermen spend on their civic job.   At minimum, could the aldermen log a “day in the life” diary, as a sample, so we can actually see how much time they spend and on what?  How does that compare to the uncompensated day in the life of a school board member, say?

      The healthcare contribution is outrageous.  Most part-time employees get no health benefits from their employers for themselves, let alone their families.  And Evanston pays 90%.  My experience is that the employer-employee split is 50-50.  It is hard to justify a 90-10 split for all city employees, but especially for part-time ones.  Now that health care exchanges exist, aldermen can shop on the exchange, go to their full-time employer, or rely on their spouse.   But not on me.

      I am sure that the committee discussed these issues, but from this article, I cannot see the rationale for their recommendation.

      1. Punching the clock

        Hi Anon0,

        The aldermen — as reported in the third graf from the bottom of the story — were asked to respond anonymously to a survey from city staff asking how many hours they work each week on city business.

        It was clear from the responses — as is typical of positions in which people have the freedom to determine for themselves how many hours they work — that an alderman's work expands to fill the time available.

        As a result, I think self-reported data on hours worked is of limited value in determining how much the citizens of Evanston should pay their aldermen. Whether the position attracts a sufficient number of well-qualified candidates at the pay currently offered is probably a better measure, although admittedly that's highly subjective.

        If you'd like a little more detail on the hours-worked survey, you can find it in this .pdf.

        — Bill

  5. Who has had a 54 percent raise in the last 5 years?

    Over the past five years, my employer has capped raises at a total of less than 5 percent. Some years, the cap was 1.1 percent, some years zero. This is for all employees, no matter their performance and I have always received the top percentage available.  But it totaled less than 5 percent over 5 years.

    I do not expect any better raises for the next five years based on my employer's comments.  Meanwhile, my medical costs (payroll contribution, copays, coinsurance) continue to increase each year so I am taking home less each year.

    Many people who live in Evanston tell me the same–raises very low or frozen with rapidly escalating Increased contributions to health care costs  

    So why should I, as a taxpayer, pay part-time city employees who get 90 percent of their insurance premiums paid (even for their entire family) 54 percent more?  They knew the pay when they ran for the office and have chosen to keep running for the office.

    The people who serve on these "committees" (I have it in quotes because they must be somebody's somebody to get appointed to a city committee considering aldermanic pay so I call that a set up, not a committee)–do they live in a fantasy world, lack common sense or both?  Every employer must consider the business' finances, inflation and the general state of the labor market when considering raises for employees.  Why is the City of Evanston any different?

    1. raises
      Just give ALL part-time city employees a 54% raise……how’s that for being fair ? Who on that committee is living on another planet?

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