COLUMBIA — The City Council will discuss ballot language for council members' potential stipends in a pre-council meeting Monday.
A letter submitted to the council on Nov. 29 outlined a proposed amendment to the city charter that would create a $6,000 annual stipend for ward representatives and a $9,000 annual stipend for the mayor. If approved by the council, the public would vote on the amendment in the April municipal elections. Voter approval would make the stipends take effect in 2014.
Many of the 19 signatories to the letter have been involved in city government in the past. The letter notes Columbia's expansion from 30,000 people when the City Charter was drafted in 1949 to over 100,000 today.
"We feel that it is fundamentally unfair and inequitable that the mayor and council receive no stipend whatsoever for their service to Columbia," the group wrote in the letter. "No other city of Columbia's size and complexity joins Columbia in paying nothing at all for their elected leaders' service."
The letter is signed by former mayors Darwin Hindman, Mary Anne McCollum, Rodney Smith and others.
Bob Roper, former chairman of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the most recent round of talk about council stipends more than a year ago. But he noted that the issue has come up regularly over the past few decades.
"This has been talked about off and on for a very long time," Roper said.
Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said the stipend proposals would be a more comprehensive version of the reimbursements that are currently available for council members' work-related travel and conference costs. Reimbursements for each council member were recently decreased from $4,500 to $2,500 annually.
Kespohl said that if stipends are eventually approved, he would return his to the city.
“I made a promise to my constituents during my campaign that I wouldn’t spend any money on travel or conferences,” Kespohl said, indicating that he has paid for all of his own trips and meals out of pocket.
Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley said he was opposed to paying City Council members, although he thinks the decision is up to the public. Dudley is serving his first term on the council and said he spends at least 20 hours each week on council issues, although he has spent up to 30 hours in his busiest weeks.
“Being on the City Council is a volunteer job, and I understood that when I decided to run,” he said.
Dudley said that a stipend may slightly increase the number of people interested in running but that the long-term effects would be negligible.
“The stipends would help people with their weekly expenses," he said. “However, it wouldn’t provide the kind of income to make the position a full-time job."
Dudley opposed stipends for council members in part because the payments would come from the city’s general fund. He said the money would be better spent hiring a new city employee, such as a firefighter or police officer, or providing raises for city employees.
On the other hand, First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said he is in favor of paying City Council members.
“I think a small stipend of $10,000 to $12,000 would be appropriate,” he said.
Sturtz said working on the council takes at least 20 hours per week, and although he will not be seeking re-election and thus would be unaffected by any future stipend vote, he thinks council members should receive some compensation for their contributions.
Columbia voters last rejected a proposal for council stipends in 1992. They rejected Proposition 1 – which would have paid the mayor $6,000 and council members $4000 – by a 54 percent majority. The 1992 vote was the fourth time that stipend issues had been on the ballot between 1978 and 1992.
The pre-council meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in conference rooms 1A and 1B in City Hall, 701 E. Broadway. The regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m in the council chambers.