The Northfield City Council is considering 2.5% raises for councilors and the mayor in 2021 and 2022.

The first reading of the proposal passed on a 5-1 vote. Councilor David DeLong voted no. Councilor Erica Zweifel was absent.

If approved, councilor salaries are set to increase from $8,604 to $8,995 on Jan. 1, 2021. That amount would rise to $9,220 in 2022. The mayor’s salary is set to increase from $11,472 to $11,994 in 2021 before another 2.5% bump in 2022. The proposed 2021 budget impact for the mayor and council would be an additional expense of $1,609 over 2020. The proposed 2022 budget impact is an additional of $1,649.

Approval could come later this month. In accordance with state law, any salary changes won’t be finalized until after November’s election.

In introducing the proposal, City Administrator Ben Martig said although he doesn’t believe city councilors serve to make money, he acknowledged there are costs involved beyond the time commitment, including a possible loss of free time.

“It can be, in some cases, a contributor in some people not being able to participate,” he said.

Martig encouraged councilors to think of the proposal in more of a long-term perspective to encourage a diverse group of Northfielders to serve.

According to a summary compiled by city staff, Northfield is slightly above the median salary for city councilors and the mayor. Despite that, Martig said the city is an extraordinarily active and engaged community for its size. The council is seen as taking on more complex issues than comparable municipalities.

Councilor Jessica Peterson White said the council has done a good job of depoliticizing raises within the last few years, something she believes wasn’t the case with previous councils. She said the current group is doing well by following a strict standard in the process.

Peterson White and fellow Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau expressed concern that by not increasing the salaries, the positions will become less tenable for people struggling to pay bills and lead to a favorable system for wealthy Northfielders who no longer work.

Peterson White added that compensation levels don’t necessarily match the increasing workload the council has undertaken.

“We should recognize that for the general public and leaders who will fill our seats and do this work,” she said.

Councilor David DeLong said Wednesday that he voted no because of the number of people who are unemployed, underemployed or furloughed during COVID-19.

“I don’t think it’s the right time,” he said. “There’s a lot of people feeling a lot of pain out there.”

A self-described fiscal conservative, DeLong noted he also voted against salary increases in 2016 and 2018.

“The council salary is adequate as it is,” he said.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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