Ely’s elected officials deserve a raise

It’s never easy to talk about raising your own pay, especially when you’re an elected official.
But delicate as it can be, especially in an election year, the discussion at Tuesday’s Ely City Council study session was long overdue.
Council salaries haven’t been raised since 1986 and it’s high time for an increase. School board members in Ely should have the same conversation as well.
Let’s start at City Hall, where the council salary of $400 per month and the mayoral monthly stipend of $425 have remained the same for three decades.
If adjustments had been made for inflation, the current stipends would be about $870 for council and $925 for mayor.
Outgoing mayor Ross Petersen suggested this week that salaries be set at $500 and $600, but we don’t think the mayor is going far enough.
Nobody, not city employees or anyone else, is working under a 1986 pay scale and council members in Ely shouldn’t be expected to make such a sacrifice.
If anything, since the time council stipends were last increased, the demands of the job have become heavier.
In addition to a pair of regular monthly business meetings, council members take part in a monthly study session and serve on several committees.
Not to mention research, fielding constituents’ phone calls, e-mails and stops on the street, and the job can be consuming.
The expectations are even higher for the mayor, who serves as the titular head of city government, serves in a ceremonial role at many functions and is generally the first point of contact for the council.
A better pay scale may also make the job more attractive to those pondering a run for city office.
It’s unfortunate the charter was changed to put council pay in the hands of Ely voters, which in essence creates another obstacle and can lead to council compensation becoming an issue in city elections.
Maybe that’s one reason the status quo has reigned for so long, but we urge the council to move forward with a pay raise, beyond what was suggested this week.
The same holds true on the campus of the Ely School District, where the board chairman receives a monthly stipend of $200 per month while the rest of the board gets $150.
These six people oversee an annual budget of $7 million or so and - like the city council - have been paid the same for years if not decades.
It’s easy to rely on hyperbole and make statements that elected officials operate strictly for public service and that pay raises are not needed or that compensation isn’t necessary at all.
But the reality is elected officials have bills to pay and obligations to meet like anyone else, and that a good job requires hours of research and time commitment each week and is worthy of fair compensation.
Pay raises for Ely’s elected officials are warranted and shouldn’t be delayed, and voters in Ely needn’t have any qualms about supporting an increase if it goes to the ballot this fall.