ITHACA, N.Y.—Members of the city’s Common Council will make $4,000 more than last year after a vote to approve a salary increase to attract residents from more diverse backgrounds to run and to establish a new mayoral salary.
Alderpersons will now earn a yearly salary of $17,191 compared to the $13,141 they made this year. The mayor’s salary for next year will be $30,000, a figure agreed upon by council members to equal a third more of their own. The mayor’s current salary is $61,489.
The dramatic decrease in compensation for the mayoral role is due to the city’s transition to a city manager form of government that was approved in a referendum vote in November 2022.
Members of council calculated all the proposed figures using the most recent living wage study result for the city of Ithaca from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, which is $18.26 per hour. That is “above the living wage [we] pay employees now,” Mayor Laura Lewis said during the meeting.
The current salaries of city employees were calculated using the 2022 living wage figure of $16.61 from the Tompkins County Workers Center.
None of these figures include the additional costs of optional fringe benefits the city offers for subsidizing health insurance for council members. The city is contractually liable to dish out an additional $22,000 to each member of Common Council to pay for up to 80% of their health insurance costs if they choose to opt in, according to Alderperson Donna Fleming.
A salary raise does influence the amount the city will spend on benefits, according to Alderperson Cynthia Brock, who said the higher the salary, the more expensive the benefits for the city.
Fleming proposed a lower salary increase of $14,200 in part for this reason. This figure was calculated assuming that, like her, each member works about 15 hours per week. She proposed the mayor earn double the amount an alderperson will at $28,400.
Fleming said being a member of council is not supposed to be a means of full employment, but rather, a way to support and work for the community.
Kumar proposed a 50% hike in salaries with the assumption members of council work at least 20 hours a week. Her proposed figure of $18,990 was calculated using the same rate of $18.26 per hour.
“A fully engaged alderperson who puts in the care and energy Ithaca deserves from its elected officials is easily working 20 hours a week,” Kumar said. “A part time job, at minimum.”
Both Alderpersons Jorge DeFendini and Phoebe Brown agreed with Kumar, and said they both work at least 20 hours a week, and deserve to be compensated accordingly.
“I don’t know how others do less,” Brown said.
Other members agreed and spoke about the hours they spend each week reading through materials to discuss at meetings, the time they take to actively engage with their constituents and the effort it takes to show up for the community while working another full-time job.
“I need to be really clear that the face of the council is changing,” Brown said. “We are not going to get people who we want to see on this council if they can’t actually use this as a part-time job with those great benefits.”
Members reached a compromise and agreed that working an average of 18 hours per week was reasonable and necessary for members to do their jobs.
City Attorney Ari Lavine said procedurally, the figures voted and agreed on at the meeting are not legally binding. The procedural vote needed to legitimately establish the agreed-upon salaries will take place at the council’s next meeting scheduled for Sept. 6.
Assuming the council goes through with the procedural vote, the draft will then be presented in its entirety at the subsequent meeting scheduled for Oct. 6. The council will take a final vote to make the new city manager form of government in Ithaca legal by approving the draft amendment to the city charter.
Lewis said that she is confident the council will take that procedural vote as planned. Despite the delay in voting to approve the amendment that codifies the city manager’s new salary and their responsibilities, Lewis said the city is releasing the initial ad for the position this week.
“I’m confident we’ll have a city manager in office on Jan. 1, 2024,” Lewis told The Ithaca Voice.