TC commission, mayor getting raises

Jordan Travis, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
·4 min read

Mar. 3—TRAVERSE CITY — Raises tied to inflation are coming for Traverse City's mayor and city commissioners in 2021 and 2022.

The Local Officers Compensation Commission recommended upping the mayor's compensation to $10,130.63, up from $9,990.76, documents show. City commissioners will get a pay increase as well, up to $6,598.02 from $6,505.65.

Those are both 1.4-percent increases and based on the Detroit All Urban Consumer Price Index, city Clerk Benjamin Marentette told city commissioners at a recent meeting — it's a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation indicator based on what Detroit-area consumers pay for a variety of goods and services.

Compensation board members also proposed increasing the mayor's and city commission's pay for 2022 based on the same indicator once it's calculated for December 2020 through December 2021, Marentette said.

City leaders didn't oppose the Local Officers Compensation Commission's proposed increases, so they'll take effect March 31 and are retroactive for 2021 — it would take five of seven commissioners' votes to reject them, documents show.

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said she agreed with the raises, as she agrees with putting a value on the time city commissioners put into the task. Doing so can help ensure the commission represents the whole city.

"We're saying time has value, and as a commissioner ... from what I've experienced we all step up to do it out of civic pride," she said. "That doesn't mean everything should have to be free and only the people who can afford to put that much time and effort into something for free are worthy of the seat."

That's also partly why Shamroe said concerns over COVID-19 didn't prompt her to reject the raises — it's an election year, so rejecting them would send the wrong message to candidates.

Shamroe would've looked at the proposed raises differently if city commissioners had heard bad news about property value growth from city Assessor Polly Cairns or other warning signs, she said.

Marentette said the compensation commission factored in the pandemic and opted to move ahead with raises, in part because they were small amounts and also because the pandemic put more of a demand on services and therefore, oversight.

Mayor Jim Carruthers agreed raises were small enough not to give him pause, and believed commissioners felt the same way. He likened it to a cost-of-living increase on top of a "very, very low stipend" in exchange for what can be a thankless job.

"We're compensated minimally for the time we spend and the issues that we have to deal with in our personal lives," he said, adding he recently faced threats that prompted the police to investigate.

Both Shamroe and Carruthers contrasted the raises with what Grand Traverse County Commissioners recently approved for themselves — $5,000 more in 2021, a 72 percent raise, as recently reported.

Shamroe said she believes city commissioners would've scrutinized if not rejected raises for themselves of that scale.

The Local Officers Compensation Commission is aimed at deciding city commissioners' and the mayor's pay amounts through a process removed from the people getting the money, Marentette said.

The board meets on odd years and compares Traverse City elected officials' compensation to those on a list of "benchmark" cities, Marentette said. Those cities are chosen based on their total budgets, number of full-time employees and their total state-equalized values — a measure of property tax values.

Board members sometimes recommend bigger jumps to close pay gaps between other city elected officials versus Traverse City's, Marentette said. That's why they upped the mayor's pay by $997 to $8,750 for 2019, and another $1,000 for 2020, up to $9,750.

Commissioners received raises those years as well, by $117 to $6,320 for 2019, and $278 more for $6,598 in 2020, according to Marentette.

Traverse City's Board of Tax Review members are the only other board members to be compensated, largely because the position demands sometimes day-long meetings at various points of the year, Marentette said. City commissioners unanimously approved increasing their per diem rate by 1.4 percent, up to $263.82 — $3.64 more per day.

The Local Officers Compensation Commission recommended against paying any other city boards after city commissioners requested they consider it, Marentette said. That's mostly because of the difficulty in calculating fair pays for a large number of boards with widely varying duties and time commitments.