Editorial: It’s time to allow a pay hike for city-county councilors

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The predictable political drumbeat against the proposed pay raise for Indianapolis’ city-county councilors already has begun.

Conservative radio talk show host Tony Katz suggested on Twitter they shouldn’t be thinking about a bigger payday while the city suffers from 200-plus murders a year. Others complain that councilors ought to be fixing the city’s pothole-scarred neighborhood streets before they line their own pockets.

Their complaints about the city’s struggles are legitimate. But they seem to be overlooking the fact that sometimes you get the government you pay for.

Sure, it might sound outrageous to allow the council to nearly triple its pay. But that ignores the reality that the council hasn’t had a pay raise in 20 years and that its pay significantly lags that of many other cities of similar size across the country and even many smaller cities in Indiana.

As IBJ’s Leslie Bonilla Muniz first reported last week, the council’s Democratic leadership has proposed increasing the base pay for the city’s 25 part-time councilors to $31,075 from just $11,400.

Accounting for the additional per-diem pay councilors receive for attending council and committee meetings, total annual pay for the typical council member would rise to $37,825 from $15,448. The council president and other leaders receive additional stipends.

Still, council members in other cities earn significantly more than Indianapolis councilors do—and some will continue to even if the Indianapolis pay raise is approved.

A 2020 survey of council pay by IBJ showed councilors in Columbus, Ohio, made $57,738; Louisville, $48,791; and Charlotte, North Carolina, $32,709. Even smaller cities in Indiana paid more at the time, including Hammond ($31,211), Fort Wayne ($22,279) and Fishers ($20,157).

Given the time they devote to the city and the complexity of the issues they must tackle, Indy’s councilors deserve to earn more.

But a near tripling of their pay must come with the understanding that we, the voting public, also will expect more accessibility, better government and better solutions to the city’s homicide and infrastructure problems.

And we expect a higher level of leadership that can engage suburban communities in discussions about regional initiatives key to preserving the economic vitality of the urban core and building a robust economic future for the entire metro area.

For now, our hope is that the council and city leaders have the political will to follow through with the pay hike, unlike their past three tries, and that Mayor Joe Hogsett has the political courage to sign off on it.

And while the council is at it, it should also increase mayor’s pay from its current substandard $95,000 a year. That would make the whole pay issue less politically palatable for Hogsett. But it’s really not about him. It’s about establishing a pay level that would make it more attractive and more feasible for leaders and creative thinkers in the private sector to consider running for mayor and council in the future.•

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2 thoughts on “Editorial: It’s time to allow a pay hike for city-county councilors

  1. Could not agree more. I raised an issue with my counsel person and the response I received was to “call the police I can’t do anything about it”. So tractor-trailers parked in the Bike lane for 3 full blocks that is over 7 flatbed trailers from the construction of the freeway blocking the bike lane on Michigan Ave. is not your concern and you have no ability to make sure this does not happen again. I look back on anything this person has done tangible for his district in support of his constituents and I come up empty-handed. I look forward to voting in Nov.

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