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Guest opinion

Prop. 409: Low wages for Tucson mayor & council are bad for business

Members of city commission recommended voters OK raises for city leaders

How's this for a help-wanted ad:

Wanted: Dedicated individual to help manage $1.5 billion corporation with 4,500 employees. Must be able to balance numerous competing demands in this full-time position. Salary: Less then minimum wage and there has not been a raise in 20 years. Apply: City of Tucson.

How many highly qualified applicants would apply for something like that? Business owners know that to attract the best employees, they must offer a competitive salary.

Each one of us is part-owner of a large and important business venture: the city of Tucson. And it is time for us to offer decent salaries to our seven most important employees: the mayor and members of the City Council.

Doing so would cost each of us about only about 2 cents per month; less than a quarter annually.

Tucsonans don't like to give raises to our elected officials. Because of that, they have not received a raise for two decades.

That is not only unfair, it is bad for business.

By not offering salaries that are even marginally competitive, we severely limit the number of people who can afford to seek these critically important positions.

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Tucson's City Charter requires that every two years a commission be established to review the salaries of elected officials. Seven volunteers, including the five of us, were appointed by the city manager to conduct a study and report our recommendations, which are then placed on the ballot.

The bipartisan group of us recommended that the annual salary of the mayor be increased from $42,000 to $63,128; and that the annual salary of councilmembers be increased from $24,000 to $42,081.

These numbers were selected purposefully. The recommended increases would mean members of the City Council would earn the median household income for the city, as measured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development.

The final decision will be made by you, the voters, as Proposition 409 appears on the November general election ballot.

We understand those would be substantial raises. They are bigger raises then any of us received in the past year. But this is why we made this recommendation:

  • The mayor and councilmembers have not received a raise since 1999. Since then, inflation reduced their income by 51 percent, while the city population grew by 10 percent and the city budget grew by 45 percent.
  • Increasing the salaries would make it possible for a larger number of people to seek the offices. With the current salary, the pool of potential candidates tilts largely to people who are independently wealthy, have a spouse with a well-paying job or are retired. A higher salary would allow more people, including those with a business background, to seek these important positions.
  • Increasing the salaries would allow the mayor and council members the flexibility to be more available to their constituents, to meet the demands of their elected positions and to meet the expectations of we, their bosses.
  • Tucsonans have entrusted the mayor and Council with substantial responsibilities in recent years. Voters have approved $225 million in parks bonds, $100 million in street repair bonds and a half-cent sales tax increase for police and fire equipment and infrastructure improvements.
  • Voters also have entrusted the mayor and Council with overseeing the successful revitalization of commercial and residential development in Downtown Tucson.

Tucson's business leaders know that this is a reasonable and overdue request. The proposal has been endorsed by the Tucson Metro Chamber.

We are asking the mayor and Council to oversee what is essentially a corporation with a $1.5 billion budget. Yet our councilmembers earn less than minimum wage. That does not allow a wide range of qualified applicants to offer to lead our city.

Vote yes on Proposition 409. It's right for Tucson.

The authors were members of the Citizens' Commission on Public Service and Compensation.

Mark Kimble is a former Tucson Citizen journalist and former congressional communications director. He is retired and served as chair of the city commission, and is chairman of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Jerry Anderson, a former Tucson city councilman, moved to Tucson in 1975. He is a University of Arizona alumnus, a former TUSD educator and city of Tucson bureaucrat. He is retired and lives in Downtown Tucson.

Michael Guymon, vice president for the Tucson Metro Chamber, is a native Tucsonan whose 22-year career has primarily centered on political strategy, business development and advocacy, and organizational management.

Rocque A. Perez is a lifelong resident of the City of Tucson and third-year student at the University of Arizona. He serves as an elected representative of the student government on campus.

Mike Sitzman is a local businessman who has lived in Tucson for 34 years with his wife, Diana. He raised two children, Nick and Kaity, in Tucson.

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