A recent vote by Rochester City Council members to approve a slight raise in the pay they receive for serving on that city's governing board raises the issue of what is appropriate and adequate compensation for local city councils and commissions.
Council members in Rochester approved a $5 increase in per meeting pay for themselves, as well as a $10 increase for the mayor and mayor pro tem. The increase was recommended by the city's compensation commission, which is tasked with evaluating city council pay every two years, and amounts to $1,440 for regular council members, and a bit more for those with special titles and duties. And while the change was dubbed the first increase in at least a decade, council members will actually see a decrease in their annual compensation, as the number of meetings they will get paid for was lowered from 33 to 24.
While most local governing board members consider their position one of voluntary service, payment for their time is appropriate, albeit far from even across the county. For instance, Birmingham City Commission members receive just $5 per meeting. Considering the amount of time, effort and research council members are required to put into their positions, compensation serves as recognition for their service. An appropriate compensation that comes at the recommendation of an independent committee also lends credibility to that service and payment for it.
While $5 per meeting seems woefully inadequate to us, pension benefits provided to city council members in Rochester Hills could have others scratching their heads, as well.
In August of 2017, Rochester Hills City Council members approved a $10 increase in each meeting they attend in excess of 32 meetings, bringing that total to $70. The increase – the first since 2005 – was recommended by the city's Human Resources Technical Review Committee, which reviews compensation for council annually, per the city's charter. The per meeting pay is in addition to an annual base salary of $6,577.43 for council members and $8,350.48 for the council president. Base salary amounts in Rochester Hills have been the same since 2001.
In addition to base salaries, Rochester Hills council members also receive an added pension benefit in the form of a 401a Plan, with a 12-percent city contribution; after-tax voluntary employee contributions up to 12 percent; 36-month vesting for city contributions.
While base salaries in Rochester Hills are significantly higher than some other communities, they aren't necessarily out of line with some other communities in Oakland County with similar populations. Nor do we intend to cast aspersions on sitting council members, many who voiced reservations about accepting even a slight increase at the behest of city staff.
We do, however, question the appropriateness of benefit packages that are typically reserved for full-time employees of a municipality. While such benefits serve more as a gesture of good will than a significant expenditure on the city's behalf, on the surface it may give the appearance of excessive pay for what most consider a voluntary position.