MONEY MATTERS: Aurora City Council to ask voters for 33% pay bumps this fall

Currently, council members earn $13,950, the mayor makes $60,226 and the mayor pro tem nets $15,953.

AURORA | Depending on the appetite of local voters this fall, Aurora City Council members could see their paychecks swell next year.

Council members Monday night formally approved a ballot question set to appear in this year’s general election that will ask voters to approve a roughly 33 percent pay raise for the city’s politicos.

By a vote of 6-4, city council members signed off on an ordinance that would ask voters to grant the city’s elected officials a pay bump for the first time in nearly 25 years.

Just as they did during the ordinance’s first reading two weeks ago, council members Marsha Berzins, Barb Cleland, Sally Mounier and Charlie Richardson voted no on the measure.

The ballot question will ask to bring the annual salary for city council members to $18,550, while the mayor would make $80,000. The city’s mayor pro tem, a position currently filled by At-Large Councilwoman Angela Lawson, would earn $20,550 a year.

Currently, council members earn $13,950 annually; the mayor makes $60,226, and the mayor pro tem nets $15,953.

Council members are also eligible to receive healthcare and pension benefits based on the length of their service after they step down, a notion that has chafed some local government watchdogs.

Council members are also granted about $1,100 for certain monthly expenses and $7,000 each in annual travel expenses. The mayor is permitted $11,000 for travel expenses, according to council rules.

Council salaries were last modified with a voter-approved charter amendment in 1993, while an additional tweak was made to just the mayor’s compensation three years later.

At that time, council salaries were set at $8,293.92 per year and the mayor pro tem’s compensation was set at $9,483. The mayor’s salary was set at $11,847 in 1993 and changed to $40,000 in 1996.

Council member salaries have increased in the past 20 years due to adjustments made for cost of living increases calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor Consumer Price Index. That stipulation would remain in place if the new measure is approved by voters.

Compared to 17 other Front Range municipalities, Aurora is the only city with a council-manager form of government and a full-time mayor. Because of that, compensation for the city’s mayor is much higher than most neighboring cities with a council-manager format.

Cities with a strong mayor model of government pay their mayor significantly more than council-manager cities. The state’s two largest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, which are both strong-mayor cities, pay their mayors $171,197 and $103,370, respectively, according to Aurora city documents. Aurora’s city manager performs most of the duties of full-time mayors in other cities.

Some council members have argued that because the city’s population has significantly grown — to the tune of nearly 100,000 more people — in the years since Aurora’s elected officials last received a raise, the larger constituency therefore makes the supposedly part-time job more demanding.

Many council members, who have reported regularly putting in 40-60 hours a week for council-related duties, are either retired or hold secondary day jobs.

Compared to about 20 cities with populations between 300,000 and 400,000 across the country, Aurora is most compatible with Stockton, California, which has both a council-manager style of government and a full-time mayor like Aurora. In Stockton, the mayor earns $72,384 and council members earn $16,529, according to Aurora city documents.