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Grand Forks studies City Council pay, among lowest in ND

Grand Forks City Council members are among the lowest-paid in North Dakota's larger city governments. So last month Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman requested a review of the council members' salaries in the interest of raising the...

Grand Forks City Council members are among the lowest-paid in North Dakota’s larger city governments.

So last month Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman requested a review of the council members’ salaries in the interest of raising the rate. Since he’s not seeking re-election this year, Gershman said he thought it was appropriate he make the suggestion, to help future council members.

At $5,200, Grand Forks council members’ yearly salary falls below that of city government representatives in Fargo, Bismarck, Minot, Dickinson, West Fargo, Jamestown and Devils Lake, according to data from cities and the North Dakota League of Cities.

Fargo city commissioners make $22,828 each year, Bismarck’s make $11,784 and West Fargo’s make $7,680.

Jamestown, Devils Lake and Minot representatives’ salaries range from $7,100 to $7,200.


And, closer to home, Grand Forks County Commissioners are paid $17,484 annually.

Grand Forks City Council members have been paid the $5,200 salary since 2000, according to Tangee Bouvette, city human resources generalist.

“I think the data demonstrates that the council members (in Grand Forks) are grossly undercompensated,” Gershman said. But, “It demonstrates that the council members did not run for compensation, they did it for public service.”

‘Fair compensation’

Gershman said he’d like to see the council members’ pay at least doubled, which would put it at $10,400 per year. But $12,000 would be more appropriate, Gershman said.

“A thousand per month would be fair, I think,” he said.

In his 14 years on the council, the workflow has become more efficient, Gershman said. But council members still probably spend at least six to 20 hours per week on city duties, he said.

And sometimes the time commitment is more. For example, council members Ken Vein and Bret Weber are traveling to Washington D.C., this weekend as the city’s Legislative Committee, and that trip required many more hours of preparation, they said.


The public often can’t see all of the work council members do, Gershman said. In addition to public meetings, the work includes answering phone calls and emails from constituents or the media and researching city issues.

Both Vein and Weber said they think a salary increase for council members would be appropriate, considering the comparison with other cities, but they don’t want City Council pay or responsibilities to become like that of a full-time job.

“I think Fargo’s (council salary) is too much,” Weber said.

City Council members said city government representatives should be doing it to serve the public, not for the money.

“I do it because I love Grand Forks,” said council member Dana Sande.

But an increased salary could make it easier to attract a variety of citizens to the council seats, Weber said. He’s concerned that there aren’t any women on the council and that Sande is the only council member with children at home, he said.

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.”

Gershman added that he wants to attract younger members to the City Council, and better compensation could help.


Ideas on salary

Weber said if there’s a compensation increase, he’d like to see the current City Council members grandfathered in with their current salary for the rest of their term. The new salary should be for newly elected or re-elected council members, he said.

Council member Terry Bjerke said he doesn’t think there needs to be a big increase in council members’ salary to catch up with the other cities’ pay, but he thinks the council’s compensation should be increased slightly each year for inflation. He’d like the increase set at the same rate as city employees’ raises.

“That way, we’re not any better than them,” he said.

Gershman also requested city staff look into better accommodations for City Council members in City Hall.

Fargo’s city commissioners share an office and have their own desks, said Karena Carlson, Fargo city communications manager.

Grand Forks County commissioners also share an office.

Grand Forks City Council members do not have offices or desks. Gershman said he is not asking that additional clerical staff be hired to assist council members, but other accommodations would be helpful.


“It would be nice to maybe use a printer or copy machine,” Weber said. He’d also appreciate mailing privileges for communicating with constituents, he said.

Bjerke said it would be nice to have at least a couple of desks for council members to share. “It’s sometimes difficult to find a place (in City Hall) to just go and look something up,” he said.

Council members’ accommodations will likely be addressed as City Hall is being assessed for remodel, Bjerke said.

After city staff complete research on different possibilities for City Council compensation, the issue will be addressed in city budget meetings in April, said Todd Feland, city administrator.

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