The city’s finance committee met for almost six hours last night to discuss the 2023 operating budget, approving a move to raise pay for some city employees while shooting down a raise for alders.
Along with discussing a slew of other budget amendments, the committee voted 4-2 approving a pay increase of 3% throughout the year for the around 1,400 municipal employees not covered by a union.
While city police and fire employees are still covered by a union, the majority of city employees lost their collective bargaining rights in 2011 under Act 10. Because of that, the city reports that non-union city employees have seen pay increases at around 6% below that of union employees.
Under the amendment, the pay raise, which is usually given out in January, will be split into two raises, a 2% raise in July and another 1% in October. The city estimates that, by 2024, the increase would cost around $3.1 million.
Some alders raised concerns about pay increase, saying that the city is already looking at a budget deficit over the coming years. Council President Keith Furman, who voted against the amendment, says that he’s not convinced the wage increase will benefit workers in the long run.
“Ultimately, the state does not provide the city with enough revenue. Our costs to operate continue to increase at a rate much more rapid than our ability to raise revenue. As federal funding runs out, and as costs continue to increase and we have less tools to use, a lot of those options are running out and we are going to have to make some very serious decisions in the next few years on how to bridge that gap,” Furman says.
But alder Sheri Carter of District 14 argues that the city’s budget has always been tight.
“I think that the bottom line is that our municipal and government employees deserve to have a raise, and deserve to have this gap shortened, and in a manner that is relatively soon rather than relatively long,” Carter says.
Another amendment discussed at last night’s meeting would have raised alder’s pay to $34.80 an hour, or a yearly salary of around $37,000. Currently, city alders make $13.77 an hour, or around $14,000 a year.
The idea to raise alder’s pay has been discussed by the council for years. The city’s Task Force on the Structure of City Government, or TFOGS, first formed in 2017, and released a comprehensive report of the council in 2020. That report recommended making city alders full time employees, and paying them at least $45,000 a year.
But that idea was shot down by Madison voters in a nonbinding referendum last year, along with most of the other TFOGS recommendations.
The pay raise was brought forward again by Council President Keith Furman, and was cosponsored by Alders Juliana Bennet of District 8, Nikki Conklin of District 9, Grant Foster of District 15, and Vice President Jael Currie.
Alder Furman says that the pay increase would help make the board more equitable, and allow people who are not as financially stable to be able to afford to live off the salary of an alder.
New alder Sabrina Madison of District 17 says that raising the wage would only help to encourage more people to run for council.
“I would not have been able to apply to serve in this role had I not had a part time executive assistant and full time staff at my day job. So if you think about what is a value proposition, to pay a little bit more for folks to spend some time to serve this city, you would just end up with people who are not financially strapped in order to give back and serve this city,” Madison says.
But alder Tag Evers of District 13 says that the current alder wage is enough to bring diverse voices to the council.
“Let’s be honest, we are the most diverse council in the history of the city of Madison right now, without any pay raise and without any structural changes. That’s the reality. So if we talk about gatekeeping, how traditionally marginalized folks can get their voices to the table, I would suggest that it all starts with the campaigns. If we’re being honest, that’s the gatekeeping: who you align with, the cliques that you come into contact with,” Evers says.
Ultimately, that amendment deadlocked on a 3-3 vote, meaning that it won’t be included in the finance committee’s budget. It can still be added by alders when it goes before the full council during budget week, which kicks off on November 15.
Photo courtesy: Brian Standing / WORT Flickr