COLORADO — Voters in Colorado Springs are deciding on six city council seats Tuesday. As three incumbents are running for reelection, a few fresh faces are hoping for a seat on city council.
The council members will serve full-time with an annual stipend of $6,250 or about $520 a month. The pay is something that's come up over the years in terms of how it plays into who can run for office.
A group of people in Colorado Springs explored putting a question on the ballot in 2020 to give city council members a pay raise, but with the pandemic, the effort came to a halt. Organizers with the group say with the financial situation, including budget cuts, they didn't feel it was the right time.
Supporters of a pay raise say it deters people from running for office, particularly working-class individuals.
"Democracy is supposed to be a competition of ideas," Anthony Carlson a member of the group "Levelup COS" said, "when so many people are excluded from being able to throw their name into the hat and be able to serve, what that means is Colorado Springs doesn't have the opportunity to know for sure that the best and the brightest are truly serving our city."
While the question didn't end up on the ballot, it could be something that comes up in the future.
Outgoing city councilman Don Knight in District 1, which includes northwest and parts of northeast Colorado Springs, says the pay is appropriate. Knight doesn't believe the stipend deters young people or working people from seeking office. He points to some of the candidates in the 2021 city election.
"It's a stipend, we don't get any other benefits," Knight said, he did point out city council can be up to 60 hours a week starting out. He believes money would be better spent adding staff members to council instead.
With nine city council members, currently, there are seven members on the city council staff. A pay raise would likely mean allocating dollars from the city's budget.
"That's going to be money out of the general fund, that's going to be money away from fixing potholes," Knight said, "if you want to be [a] big city and big-city government, staff is where I would put the money, not council pay."
In 2013, nearly 70 percent of Colorado Springs voters rejected a ballot question to increase the pay from $6,250 to $48,000.
Other cities pay city council higher wages. In Denver, city councilors are paid more than $94,000. The city council president in the capital city makes more than $105,000. Cities with similar size populations as Colorado Springs across the country have varying levels of pay.
For example, in Omaha, NE city council members make about $40,000. Other cities, such as Raleigh, NC, which has a part-time city council with each member making $17,000 a year.