Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Mako Haggerty contends residents don't run for the Borough Mayor position for the money, but rather to have the privilege to serve the public.
However, he said the current borough mayor position salary of $80,000 per year isn't a fair asking price for qualified individuals.
Haggerty spoke to the issue during the assembly's Tuesday meeting as assembly members considered an ordinance to raise mayor's annual salary by $19,000. The salary is currently $80,000, a number set in 1990.
"It's not about getting a bigger pool of mayoral candidates -- I don't think that is going to happen," Haggerty said. "What I think this is, is just being fair. 1990, that was over 21 years since the position has had a raise and I think it is basically time we enter the 21st Century. I think that is the way it is."
The assembly approved the ordinance, 5-3, after lengthy discussion and public testimony about the issue. Assemblyman Hal Smalley was absent from the meeting.
The salary increase will be awarded to the borough's next mayor, pending the results of the borough's October election, current Mayor David Carey said.
Before the assembly took up the issue, Haggerty said if the value of the $80,000 salary in 1990 were adjusted to today's dollars, the mayor would be making about $135,000 and that he would support more than $99,000 for the mayor.
Soldotna resident Kevin Austin spoke out against the ordinance and said he "seriously" questions the need "for this large of a payment increase" considering the "abundance" of mayoral candidates.
"I don't see we have a need to attract talent," Austin said. "I'm not opposed to being fair about salaries and benefits, but to take an arbitrary number, from $80,000 to $99,000, well that's a pretty big jump.
"I don't know of many folks in the private sector who would get a raise like that."
Assemblyman Brent Johnson asked Austin what he thought would be a fair salary for the mayor.
"I guess I would like to see what people make in the private sector running a business with that type of workload that they are responsible for," Austin said. "So, I think that would be a better indication of what the position should pay. That and the demand for people to fill the position."
Later in the meeting, Johnson made a motion to amend the amount of the salary boost to $85,000 to "massage my conscience." That amendment failed, 3-5.
Kenai resident Becky Moore said she might be able to support raising the Mayor's salary if the same Mayor had been in office for 20 years and "proven his worth and proven his value here."
"I just want to say that it is absolutely criminal that you would even suggest, in these hard economic times to make that kind of an increase to the mayor's salary," she said. "Today people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, many are being sent to the streets for a place to live and I think this is a criminal action you are taking here."
Carey spoke out against raising the position's salary. He said that through actions previously taken by the assembly, the take-home pay for the next mayor was increased by 6.7 percent per the amount of retirement money not taken out of the mayor's salary.
"If I came to the assembly with two salary increases for the same person, a total of 30 percent, I think there would be wide discussion amongst the assembly about taking better control over expenses," he said.
Assemblywoman Linda Murphy responded by saying she would be "pretty upset" if the mayor came to the assembly and "said there was an employee that hasn't had a raise in 21 years."
Carey said there were distinct differences between private sector managers receiving higher salaries than elected officials.
"You don't give (politicians) more money so they get the arrogance that some managers have," he said, fielding applause from the audience.
Assemblyman Bill Smith, who sponsored the ordinance with assemblyman Charlie Pierce, said the raise was still about what's "fair and reasonable" compensation.
"I think we can probably find people in this room that would take on the job of being mayor for $50,000 a year, but I don't think that is a fair or reasonable salary," he said. "And I think that at $99,000, that's the bottom of what fair and reasonable for the person we ask to manage this borough."
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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