Chandler Council quietly OKs small pay raise - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Council quietly OKs small pay raise

December 18th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler Council quietly OKs small pay raise
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By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Most politicians are very careful when it comes to increasing their own salaries, especially since most people can’t give themselves raises and taxpayers cast a leery eye on politicians who do.

Chandler Councilwoman Christine Ellis is not most politicians.

“If you have a problem with us getting a small little raise, sit down with me,” Ellis said after attending one of the many city events she attends weekly. “I’ll explain it to you.”

Chandler City Council quietly pushed through a change that would give members small, automatic raises to match those given around the Valley at its Dec. 8 meeting. The raises will not start until 2025, after this term ends.

The item was on a consent agenda with 40 others and none of the members chose to highlight it during the Dec. 5 study session or the regular Dec. 8 meeting.

“This restoration will either be the same as city general employees receive in a [Cost of Living Adjustment] or what is the current [inflation rate], whatever is lower,” Mayor Kevin Hartke wrote in an email.

Council is restoring this automatic increase after taking it out when members gave themselves a raise in 2016. It is a feature that is part of the city’s contracts with police and firefighters to ensure their salaries remain competitive.

The mayor blamed inflation.

“Chandler Council compensation has fallen significantly behind peer cities that we compare to with other employee compensation packages,” Hartke wrote.

Chandler currently pays its vice mayor and council members $33,500 a year and its mayor $55,000. Based on information from the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, that puts Chandler above the average for the top 10 Valley cities.

Tempe, Scottsdale, Surprise, Gilbert, Peoria and Goodyear all pay their council members less.

In addition to their base pay, Chandler City Council members get a number of other benefits, including:

• Medical, dental, vision.

• Employee Assistance Program membership.

• City-paid basic life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment totaling $50,000.

• Eligible to enroll in voluntary life insurance.

• Able to contribute in a 457(b) plan with no city match.

• Retirement Health Savings Plan city contributions only while serving in their elected capacity. Eligibility for years of service for City Retirement Health Savings deposit if retirement commences at end of their term.

• Paid short-term disability as well as long term disability through the Elected Official Retirement Plan administered by the state Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

• Retirement through the Elected Official Retirement Plan administered through the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

The mayor gets use of a city vehicle. Council members must use their own personal vehicles. All council members receive a city-issued cell phone and laptop during their time in office but do not get a stipend for their personal cell phone.

Each council member also has a $7,500 budget they can direct for attending meetings, travel in official capacity, etc. That money is split in half in an election year, such as this one, and shared by the outgoing and incoming members.

Council members also have up to $450,000 to spend collectively on projects around the city to help improve quality of life. These items are voted on by the entire council.

Ellis argues the small increase approved this month is not enough and has urged fellow council members to consider voting for another increase.

“I put in more than 60 hours a week,” Ellis said. “Staff call us 24/7. Anything happens in the city, we get a phone call, even if it’s after midnight. My husband is saying, ‘Where are you?’ because I’m here, working.”

She said there’s much more to the job than attending two to four council meetings each month. She said council members are ambassadors for the city, many work on state or national committees, and they are always dealing with their bosses, the citizens of Chandler.

“The other day, I had a father call me who was very much saying ‘Hey, my son is having a little bit of a hard time’ and things like that. ‘Can you talk to him?’ Boom, I have him on the phone as a council member trying to explain to him some stuff.”

Council last raised its pay at the end of 2015 and early in 2016. Current Vice Mayor Terry Roe was the only member who voted against it. It raised a council member’s salary by about $3,000 and the mayor’s by about $4,500 per year.

In 2008, the council approved making annual salary adjustments for the mayor and members based on market-based fiscal year adjustments city workers received.

The repeal of that went into effect in 2020. Hartke said they repealed it then as a concession for getting the higher salary.

Now, he wrote, that with inflation and Chandler being less competitive with other cities, they have fallen behind and putting the adjustment back in is needed to address both concerns.

No item for a bigger increase to the salaries of the mayor or council has been put on the agenda.

But Ellis says she won’t quit pushing for one.

“This is not going to be [put on] the backburner,” Ellis said. “We’re going to have to do this, because understand this, we need people who love to do this, and they want to do it, but because they have to make a living, they can’t.”