The plan is part of the city’s preliminary budget for 2022, but most council members are wary of it, and its chances of being realized in the final version of the spending plan this fall are slim.
Even if the city doesn’t offer insurance to elected officials this year, it's still a good idea. City elected officials, even part-timers, should be able to get city health insurance because hiring the best, most qualified employees requires a certain level of pay and benefits. That’s a golden rule for all employers, and it shouldn’t be any different for public entities.
This has been our soapbox issue in recent years.
In 2019, we wrote “public servants deserve fair pay that compares favorably to their peers. They deserve regular raises – not exorbitant hikes, but small increases that come only after considering the local economy and the financial success of the entity they serve. … And sometimes, the compensation is just too low, which can come as the result of years of elected officials refusing to raise their pay. … So raises should happen, and elected officials should remember that refusing increases is, in the end, a bad thing.”
In Grand Forks, the proposal seeks to offer city health insurance to council members, raise the mayor’s salary by $6,500 and a municipal judge’s salary by $2,200.
A family insurance plan costs the city approximately $14,700, while a single plan costs around $6,000. Just because it’s offered doesn’t necessarily mean an elected official will use it, since some – probably most – already are on some sort of insurance plan through their full-time employer.
At present, Grand Forks’ part-time mayor position pays $31,326; the proposed raise would bring the pay to $37,899. The part-time municipal judge is paid $73,674, and the raise would bring the salary to $75,928. City Council members earn $16,985 and their salary is not proposed to change.
Yes, these positions earn sizable part-time pay, but the positions require more than part-time attention. Much more.
Meanwhile, board members everywhere often take an aww-shucks attitude toward pay raises. That short-sighted approach keeps the pay below acceptable levels and probably dissuades potential candidates.
Today’s political climate doesn’t help. As elected leaders consider difficult decisions about the pandemic and other contemporary powderkeg issues, they also must weigh the political backlash that certainly awaits whichever decision they choose. Most board members didn’t get into public service for this. They own businesses, eat lunch at the local restaurant and generally just want to be of service to their community. Instead, some are ostracized as they wade through unwinnable political conundrums.
More candidates are needed, and better pay and benefits is a path to achieving that. The best method is to enact raises, but to put them in effect at a later date. In lieu of that approach, the council should approve the salary increases for the judge and mayor and strongly consider the insurance proposal for council members, all for the sake of boosting political participation and potential candidate numbers.
Either way, don’t be hard on any elected board for considering more pay or benefits, provided those increases are reasonable and in line with the local economy. In the end, the measures these current council members are considering may actually invite others to compete for their jobs.