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OUR OPINION: Grand Forks Council members deserve a raise

The evidence is overwhelming. Grand Forks City Council members deserve a raise, and a solid raise, at that.

The members qualify on all counts. That includes not only the less-persuasive argument of “peer comparison” but also the stronger one of “attracting a good range of candidates,” as shown by Sunday’s story by Herald Staff Writer Charly Haley (“GF council pay among lowest in state,” Page C1).

  • Grand Forks council members earn $5,200 a year, the story reported. In contrast, Fargo city commissioners earn $22,828 annually, Bismarck’s earn $11,784 and Grand Forks County commissioners are paid $17,484 a year.

Labor at all levels use the higher salaries earned by peers as leverage for a raise. And those arguments have a place, especially when the disparities are as big as they are in the Grand Forks council members’ case.

But management at all levels should recognize that the stronger test of a proper wage is whether it’s drawing a good pool of qualified applicants.

With that in mind, the Grand Forks City Council’s annual salary …

  • Falls short.

“An increased salary could make it easier to attract a variety of citizens to the council seats, (Council Member Bret) Weber said,” as the story reported.

“He’s concerned that there aren’t any women on the council and that Dana Sande is the only council member with children at home.

“Mayor Mike Brown agreed with this in his recent State of the City address, saying, ‘A more fair compensation will open the pool of citizens who may be able to take on these critical (City Council) duties.’ (Council Chairman Hal) Gershman added that he wants to attract younger members to the City Council, and better compensation could help.”

The words ring true: If Grand Forks wants its City Council to attract a wider range of candidates, a higher annual salary seems vital.

  • Then there’s the fact that the council members work hard, as every Herald reporter who has covered City Hall would attest. Spending 10 to 20 hours a week on city business isn’t at all uncommon for council members.

In return for this executive-level, “board of directors” effort, council members deserve a good wage.

The City Council has served Grand Forks well, as shown by the city’s solid credit rating, services and quality of life. For that, the council members deserve taxpayers’ thanks; but they also deserve the more meaningful show of gratitude, which is a good raise.