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KCBD INVESTIGATES: How much do Lubbock City Council members really make?

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 10:53 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A proposal to increase pay for city council members was voted down in the 1980s, but a newly-formed charter review committee is putting it back on the table.

City officials make a historically low income, but there is more to the slim salary than meets the eye.

In the city charter (Chapter 1, Article IX, Section 14) it is written that a council member can expect to earn just $25 dollars a month, with the mayor earning $75, for a total of $300 and $900 a year.

Specifically, in the 2019 to 2020 pay period, Lubbock council members earned $299.52, while Mayor Dan Pope earned $900.64. That’s a total payroll of just $2,697.76.

Serving on the Lubbock City Council has traditionally been seen as an act of public service, not a career.

Lubbock’s pay scale is well below what other city officials make, when compared to the state average: In Texas, a mayor earns $20,993 on average and a council member $14,976.

But the Lubbock council still benefits from thousands of taxpayer dollars, not necessarily from their paychecks.

All seven members receive phone and car allowances at a flat rate each year: $1,199.90 and $3,299.92 for council members and $1,499.94 and $3,900 for the mayor. Latrelle Joy and Steve Massengale do not use their phone allowance, so the total cost to the city was $29,999.06 last year.

And then there’s travel and health care.

“We have a travel budget for the entire council and mayor, so we stay within that budget. It’s not something that we go over. It’s not a very big budget,” Mayor Pope said.

In the pay period between 2018 and 2019, records show $35,778 was spent on trips and related expenses for authorized city business. In that same time frame, another $14,800 was spent on food and beverages for council and committee meetings. The next year, that cost was even more, at $21,719.

Each member and their family members have access to a health and dental insurance benefits package worth about $10,000.

Whether a council member chooses to access all or part of those benefits depends, like any other employee, on that particular council member’s needs.

In total, including salary, phone and car allowances, as well as health insurance, that is an annual package of $14,799.34 for a city council member and $16,300.58 for the mayor.

But even with all these perks combined, the symbolic salary means only certain kinds of people will run for a council seat.

“I see something wrong with that,” Juan Chadis, who represents District 1, said.

Currently, three members of council are business owners, one is semi-retired and three are fully retired.

“I’m fortunate enough that I am retired. If I was working a full-time job, I don’t see myself sitting here,” Chadis said. “We’re not being inclusive, not by choice, that’s just the way it is. The charter says this is what it’s got to be. I say revise the charter,” Chadis said.

Advocates are calling for, not just a pay increase, but for a “livable” wage for council.

“I put a ballot in a couple years ago, obviously found out how much I was going to get paid and pulled that ballot out really quickly,” Lubbock resident Nick Muniz told the charter review committee last month, “There’s a lot of people my age that would love to be a part of the democratic process, but if there’s not an attainable way to do so, then why should we stick around?,” Muniz said.

But what is a livable wage?

According to a calculator developed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, that range in Lubbock could be anywhere from $21,715 to $86,000. It all depends on family size and number of providers.

But not everyone on council is in favor of such a drastic change.

“I’m not supportive of a living wage, we’ve heard that from some folks. That to me is probably not something that makes good sense for Lubbock. I look forward to seeing what the charter review committee has to say. The council will make our decisions at that point as to how we go forward,” Mayor Pope said.

The Charter Review Committee held its second and final public hearing on Thursday night, before forming its recommendations to update the city charter.

Nearly everyone in attendance was in support of a pay raise for the mayor and city council members since the dollar amounts haven’t changed since the charter was originally written more than a century ago. While most people support a pay increase, not everyone believes this should rise to the level of a full living wage.

Manny Flores said, “I feel discriminated against in the sense that I can’t run for office. I mean, I can, but I can’t afford $25 a month. It’s really stopping a lot of people from running for office because of their pay, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Victoria Whitehead said, “We think some form of pay increase, like adjusting for inflation when the charter was authored or bringing Lubbock in line with median council pay for other large cities could be a fair approach.”

There is still a long process ahead before any changes are made to the charter, but if council approves a pay increase, then it goes to the voters in November.

Even if it passes, this council will not benefit from it. Changes will take place, most likely, after the next election cycle.

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