Billings city council members in a 7-4 vote Monday night approved an increase to the stipend they're paid for serving on the council.
It's the first time the council has increased its compensation since 1998. The proposed increase raises the pay council members receive from $600 a month to $1,000 a month. For the mayor, it would increase the stipend from $800 a month to $2,000 a month.
The pay raise would not go into effect until 2022, when all current council members have termed out. The delay was a calculated move by the council so that no one serving now would be voting on something from which they would personally benefit.
Voting against the motion was Frank Ewalt, Chris Friedel, Richard Clark and Reg Gibbs.
The proposal for the stipend increase came from council member Brent Cromley, who believed that after more than two decades it was time to increase the compensation. Many council members spend dozens of hours a week serving; the mayor, who's required to attend a number of public events, often spends more time fulfilling the duties of the office than in their actual job, Cromley said.
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"It's still a token amount," he said. "It's a not living wage."
Both Mike Yakowich, who represents the South Side on the council, and Mayor Bill Cole expressed the concern that given the time requirements of serving on the council and the relatively small stipend they receive discourages people from running who aren't comfortably retired, wealthy or able to give up work time.
Both said the council needs to see younger, more diverse city residents running for office. They also acknowledged they're not sure of the best way to do that.
Ewalt and Gibbs, who voted against the increase, expressed concerns that the city would be spending money to increase council compensation when it's having to dip into reserves to balance the budget.
Annually, the city would spend $120,000 for the 10 council members and $24,000 for the mayor — a total of $144,000 a year. The city's annual general fund budget is $44 million.