The Atlanta City Council voted to give itself a pay raise of more than 50 percent on Monday by a 10-4 vote.
The pay increase will take effect in January 2014 and up councilmember’s salary from $39,473 a year to $60,300. The increase in compensation will have no current budgetary impact.
A final decision over the legislation now goes to Mayor Kasim Reed, who through a spokesperson Monday promised to decline his 25 percent raise or $37,000 pay increase in the ordinance. The mayor wants to review the ordinance before deciding whether to sign it, veto it or let it slide into law without his signature.
Reed is in line for a raise from $147,500 to $184,300. Reed said he is reserving judgment until he has time to carefully read the legislation as passed by council.
While the mayor has communicated that he believes many member of council deserve a raise, he is concerned about the timing. As such, he has not made a decision on the council raises. However, he again communicated Monday that he will not accept a raise for himself, including if he is re-elected to a second term in 2013.
While the council has not received a pay increase since 2005, with the pay hike, the council’s annual salary will have almost tripled in the last dozen years. Currently, a promised pay increase across-the-board for city employees is being held up in committee pending more data concerning the city’s property tax collections.
District 6 Councilman Alex Wan was among the 10 who voted for the raise. Others who voted favorably included Cleta Winslow, Howard Shook, Felicia Moore, Yolanda Adrean, Joyce Sheperd, Michael Julian Bond, Aaron Watson, and H. Lamar Willis.
District 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall was among the quartet who voted against it. Also voting nay were Natalyn Archibong, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and C.T. Martin. Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. was not present.
In a news release, councilmembers expressed the fact that they routinely work upwards of 60 hours per week on matters ranging from committee and neighborhood meetings, various taskforce and commission obligations, to community emergencies and other constituent needs. Due to the responsibilities of the job, many councilmembers have either reduced outside employment status to part time or have relinquished outside employment entirely to better serve their constituencies.
“The EOCC worked tirelessly for almost eight months in an effort to determine comparable salaries for elected officials,” said Wendy Green, Chair of the seven-member Elected Officials Compensation Committee, an independent body of Atlanta citizens who are charged by the City Charter to review the compensation of elected officials every four years.
“The commission did not consider politics or past employee compensation adjustments in making our recommendation. We specifically relied on the empirical data provided by our consultant, The Shapiro Group, and one-on-one interviews with officials being impacted by our recommendations. While sensitive to the sentiments of constituents, our recommendation was based solely on our analysis of data from comparable cities and their elected officials,” concluded Green in the news release.
Discussing the compensation review process, Council President Ceasar Mitchell said, “While I support the EOCC’s recommendations, the council did not request that the commission explore pay increases. It is a process that is mandated by the city’s charter. Moreover, it is worth noting that the council rejected the previous commission’s recommended increase in 2008, resulting in what will effectively be an eight-year salary freeze on council compensation.
“I support the council’s decision to increase salaries for the next sitting council,” said Mitchell. “The current council is fully aware of the time commitment required to be effective in the role and wish to have that commitment reflected in the next council’s compensation.”
According to the news release, the compensation ($60,300 for councilmembers; $62,000 for the president) is still substantially lower than that of their counterparts in cities such as Boston, Milwaukee, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C. While these cities are similar in population and budget, Atlanta elected leaders communicated through the news release that they have a more expansive oversight responsibility, including that of managing the world’s busiest airport as well as the city’s massive sewer and water operations.
The last recommendation for a salary increase came in 2008 but was rejected by council. At that time councilmembers expressed concern for declining revenues, anxiety over the city’s ability to fund basic municipal services, and a need to ensure good stewardship to all taxpayers, constituents, and city employees.
With the city forced to lay off and furlough employees, close City Hall on Fridays, and brownout certain Atlanta Fire Rescue Department ladder trucks, elected officials were intently focused on restoring fiscal health to the city. As a result, the council rejected the EOCC proposal.
The news release continued that while there is never a good time politically to raise the compensation of elected officials, members of the current council believe the City of Atlanta has done a good job in a tough economy of overseeing the current budget, boosting the city’s reserves from a low of $7.4 million in 2010 to currently more than $110 million, and working with the administration to achieve comprehensive pension reform, which is projected to save taxpayers up to $200 million over a 10-year period.
As a result of this fiscal stewardship over the past several years, the council and mayor recognize that the city is in a much better position to consider comprehensive raises for city employees according to the press statement. In keeping with the council’s commitment to the men and women who make Atlanta run every day, councilmembers have introduced legislation calling for a comprehensive pay increase.
This legislation is one in a sustained series of ongoing targeted efforts by city leadership to make city workforce pay competitive with the market for comparable jobs. While initial funds for employee salary adjustments have been set aside in the two previous fiscal year budgets, the council is still working with the administration to address the specifics of this measure. Since the mayor’s office has requested time to work out specific figures, council has deferred in order to grant the administration time to do so.
According to the release, over the past several years, the council has reaffirmed its commitment to city employees by increasing compensation whenever possible. The council worked with the mayor to increase pay for police and firefighters to bring their salaries to at least 80 percent of market rate. Additionally, the council has codified a living wage for all employees to ensure that no full-time city employee is eligible for public assistance as a result of receiving pay below the poverty income threshold.