Councilmember Pay FAQ & Discussion

This motion was made and approved by the council 6-1. It takes not action but has staff come back to us at the next meeting. Prior to bringing this forward I spoke a few times with CM Campion, President Staver, and Mayor Norton, and the City Administrator.

Analyze and report back on Dec 2. on a potential change to elected compensation and any related impacts on the 2020 budget. Analyze impact of adopting a base index of County Household AMI with council members earning 80% AMI and Mayor earning 120% AMI of most recently available figure at year end. Analyze against compensation in 1st class cities in MN. Provide a report and any recommendations at the Dec 2, 2019 meeting for consideration by the council.

Motion passed 6-1

No on expects this to be popular. Yet we are still bringing it forward because its important. We are also doing it in full view of the public.

I do expect to have a conversation with the community and come up with something workable. I am going to use this post to share information and answer questions. I welcome meaningful feedback based on the facts. Setting our own pay is one of the least popular things that a level of government can do, in part because every elected official is different. My personal feeling is that the current compensation is bad for enabling diverse officials from having the needed tools. Having done this for 11 years my hope is that I have gotten past the “in it for the money” comments. The business that I have run since before being elected is stressed by the amount of time I spend on city issues. I have abandoned other community roles including some of the teaching gigs that I would do.

Status Quo:

Council members pay reflects 40 hours per week and have full access to full time benefits, council members made about 22k in 2010, with the mayor at about $48k, member at large is somewhere in between, but duties are the same. In the past some council members have taken family health coverage through the city which comes with about a $20k subsidy in addition to the pay. Some council members work far less than 40 hours per week, some work far more. I estimate in the last 11 years I typically will put in 40-55 hours a week covering all facets of city leadership. There are very few rules for what council members need to do. Honestly that is for the voters to decide. If your elected and reelected, some number clearly agree with you.

Speaking only for what I see; There are roughly 75 regular meetings and study sessions annually. Through other boards and commissions that number roughly double that. I would guess I have maybe 200 meetings with various teammates, often department heads, in a given year. Many hundreds of other meetings and events with media, constituents and partners also occur over a year. Typically there are several hundred pages to review in a short time frame for every meeting.

Why now:

Every time is a bad time… However… This time of year maximizes public attention and ties it to actual property taxes.

  • We would be doing this going into an election year where most of the council (4) are on the ballot.
  • The 2020 proposed levy increased less than the rate of community growth so next years tax rate will be going down ever so slightly. The tax rate has been stable since some state changes in 2012. It is a bit wonky, but what this means is that an increase in city taxes on a particular property its likely due to an increased assessment value.
  • There is some flexibility still in the budget based on the goals we set earlier this year.
  • For the first time since I have been in office we have a good 5 year view of realistic budgets.

Similar Cities (There really isn’t another city like Rochester):

  • Minneapolis – much larger, more going on, more elected officials, substantially higher pay. Population 425k people or about 32.7k per district. No at large. Council pay $99k + benefits, space, and staff. Mayor $126.5k + benefits, space, staff
  • St. Paul – much larger, 7 districts. Council $63k + space, staff Mayor $121k + benefits, space, staff, strong mayor. Population 307k or 43.8k per district.
  • Rochester – Much larger with more going on than any city outside of Minneapolis St. Paul. 6 wards, 1 at large. Council $22k + access to full time benefits (up to $20k additional), no staff support. Mayor $38k + access to full time benefits, 1 staff member. Population 120k or about 20k per district + at large. Plus DMC…
  • Duluth – Much smaller and very little growth. Council 9 members, benefits? staff – I don’t think so. $13.8k, Mayor $97.5k Population 86k
  • St. Cloud – For its part, St. Cloud (pop. 68,043) pays its mayor about $50,000 annually. Council members take home between $12,500 and $14,000.
  • Bloomington – (pop. 85,578), the mayor’s annual salary and benefits package adds up to about $44,000. Council members there earn approximately $30,000 per year, the most of any city in the metro outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Thanks Med City Beat for those last two.

Pros to Higher Pay:

  • Increases the portion of population who can serve in role
  • Reflects current time commitments and expectations
  • Less reliance on other sources of income
  • Resources to attend community events without charity
  • More age, income, gender, racial, ethnic diversity on the council

Cons to Higher Pay:

  • Increases tax dollars for elected compensation
  • Fear of “career politicians”

Why this 80% / 120% tied to a household AMI?

  • County Household AMI is potentially a good benchmark as is goes up and down as a community’s does. It is not a perfect fit, but it is a good overall measure of community economic earnings and moves with the economy. It is also a very commonly used metric. Doesn’t have to be this benchmark.
  • Prevents this topic being a contentious item every year.
  • The 80% of County AMI was not a suggestion of a particular person. Every number is too high or too low by some metric and this can change.
  • I personally just want to ensure someone can reasonably devote the time needed to do the job well without some other form or remuneration. It’s a big job. If you do it right it is a full time job with odd hours.

Here is a distribution of wages in Rochester.


  1. Can this be done by placing it on a ballot for the people to vote on. You all work for us (supposedly), so as your employer’s we should set your pay. I am fine with whatever we as a community vote on. At this time I would imagine most of the residents of Rochester have no idea what the council is paid.

    1. Your point is fair, but most of the people who would be deciding would not necessarily know the demands of the position or how that translates on a pay scale. At the end of the day budgetary authority for all non-capital decisions is the responsibility of the City Council and Mayor. I do welcome your input on what you think that should be. I can say simultaneously that I have worked a more than full time job for more than a decade at part time pay and done it willingly because it is that important to me. I can also add that because we oversee billions of dollars in planned community investments ensuring that council members are well enough compensated to focus on that job as their primary responsibility is important. I am fortunate that I own my own business, have sufficient savings, and a well employed spouse. If those are requirements to do a good job we miss out on so many more people who can serve well.

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