POCATELLO — Members of the Pocatello City Council and Mayor Brian Blad are mulling sizable raises for themselves as they seek to balance a tight municipal budget.
City leaders opted to tentatively retain proposed pay increases for their positions during a June 13 budgetary workshop, during which they trimmed the budget by removing the lowest priority requests from departmental wish lists. A final budget must still be set at a future meeting.
The mayor stands to receive a 13 percent pay raise, totaling more than $10,000. Slightly more than $31,000 in increases would be divided among the city’s six council members, providing them a 48.5 percent pay raise. Currently, the mayor earns $81,186, plus full health benefits and a retirement package, according to city records. Records show council members earn $10,649 each, plus full health benefits and a retirement package.
Council members Jim Johnston, Linda Leeuwrik, Beena Mannan and Heidi Adamson spoke in support of the pay raises, arguing the job has grown increasingly demanding, and people on limited incomes might avoid running for office if the current pay rate stands.
“If you want some younger people to be able run for the council, you have to start moving in the right direction. Most of them can’t even consider it,” Leeuwrik said.
The four council members also defended a pay raise for Blad.
“I am inclined to believe that any person doing as great a job as Brian Blad is doing, if he was running any other company with 700 employees he would be making a whole lot more money than what he is making as mayor,” Johnston said.
Blad, in turn, stood up for the proposed council raises, emphasizing members must attend 160 meetings per year, plus community events. He argued it now costs members money to serve on the council, given the rate of payment per hour of service compared with what they could be earning elsewhere.
“I would ask you to please look at not yourself but look at the next person who may be sitting in those seats and the expectation we may be setting,” Blad said. “I don’t think this is significant enough, but it is absolutely reasonable to put in.”
Councilman Rick Cheatum vociferously objected to the increases. Councilman Roger Bray was not in attendance at the meeting but later told the Journal he, too, opposes the raises.
“I don’t think any of us got into this for the money, and I don’t think any future candidate is going to get in it for the money,” Cheatum said. “If you average it out, there’s about a $5,000 per person increase, which is almost 50 percent, and I can’t honestly face an employee at a 2 percent (raise) and say I’m going to a 50 percent increase.”
Negotiations regarding employee compensation with the city’s police and fire departments are ongoing. The city’s most recent offer to police was a 2.5 percent pay raise. Furthermore, officials with the police union say they’ve been told there’s no longer room in the budget to move forward with a previously announced plan to provide every officer with a personal patrol car.
Firefighters have been offered a 1.73 percent raise. The allotted period for negotiations has passed for firefighters’ contracts, and the issue is poised to move into a fact-finding process, which is a form of arbitration. The city’s fire union leader, Capt. Andy Moldenhauer, said his members have reached out to the city and requested a final meeting to avoid that costly and time-consuming process.
Bray has similar concerns about the timing of the proposed pay raises for the council and mayor and how the action would be perceived by city workers.
“We’ve been telling them we have no money and we go just the other direction,” Bray said.
Bray also believes it’s irresponsible for the city to approve such expenses with a major lawsuit “hanging over our head.” An attorney representing city municipal service users in a class-action lawsuit has estimated the city owes $20 million in damages and interest to repay several years of collections made under utility fees deemed illegal by the Idaho Supreme Court. The fees, implemented under a previous mayor and council, were discontinued several years ago.
Johnston said the city has made great progress in its recent negotiations regarding the lawsuit settlement.
“It’s looking much better than what the gloom of a few months ago was,” Johnston said.
Johnston believes the council has made significant strides in communicating with the public and attending community events. Johnston vows the council’s community involvement will aid members in making good decisions during a “very difficult budget process.”
Mannan considers the pay increases to be a step toward making it cost-effective for a public servant to “dedicate time, energy and resources,” noting many council members have to cut their work hours.
Adamson agreed none of the current members are in the position for the money, but she added, “You have to at some point realize we’re behind what other city council (members) are at. I would say the same at the mayor’s position also.”