In context: Should city council members get a raise?

Published On: Apr 10 2013 06:53:31 PM CDT   Updated On: Apr 10 2013 06:59:27 PM CDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

La Crosse City Council members are one step closer to getting a big raise.

On Tuesday night, the committee of the whole voted to double council members' salaries and increase their expense budgets.

City Council President Audrey Kader said it's about time council members get a raise.

"I will look anybody straight in the face and say, 'Would you do what I do for what I get?'" said Kader.

Currently, council members get a check every month for $350. That's $200 in salary and $150 for expenses like Internet and cell phone bills.

The committee of the whole voted to double their salaries to $400 and increase their expense budgets to $175 for a total of $575 a month.

The salary increase was council member Chris Olson's idea.

“Well, it was time. They haven't seen an increase in their salary since 1979,” said Olson.

Adjusting for inflation, $200 in 1979 has the same buying power as about $640 today.

But how do the salaries of La Crosse council members stack up to their counterparts in cities of a similar size? Here’s a breakdown:

La Crosse:
Council members: 17
Proposed Salary: $400 a month
Proposed Expense Accounts: $175 a month

Eau Claire:
Council members: 11
Salary: $250 a month (Council President gets $300)
Expense Accounts: $47 a month for phones and transportation

Wauwatosa:
Alderpersons: 16
Salary: $350 a month
No Expense Accounts

Sheboygan:
Council members: 16
Salary: $389 a month
No Expense Accounts

West Allis:
Alderpersons: 10
Salary: $615.33 a month
No Expense Accounts

La Crosse City Council member Doug Happel said increasing his expense account by $25 a month isn't worth it, which is why he voted against the proposal.

"It's negligible. And that why I'd say it's silly. It's unnecessary. Because the reality is, the expense account and the salary are basically inseparable," said Happel.

Olson said both sides of the equation are worth increasing, even though he's stepping down from his seat and won't see a penny of it.

"What I would like people to know is there's so much more involved in being a council member for the city of La Crosse than what people see. And to those doubters I say, 'Run for council.' See what it's like. Put your time in. Then you'll understand where I'm coming from," said Olson.

A handful of people spoke out against the increases at Tuesday night's public hearing, saying participating in city council should be considered a public service.

"I've heard a lot of people say, 'It's a community service and you should just do it.' Well, I don't see those people lining up to do it,” said Kader.

Tuesday night's vote is not the final one. The full city council will take up both proposals at its meeting tomorrow night.

The salary increase would not take effect until 2015.