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‘I don’t think anybody is in this for the money’: Bend’s mayor, councilors may get sizable pay raises, after next election

(Update: Adding video, comments from city councilor, compensation review committee vice-chair)

Citizen committee recommends $50K mayor stipend, $30K for councilors

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) –  A pay raise may be on the way for future Bend mayors and city councilors, although as state law directs, they would not take effect until after another round of elections to each position.

City councilors held a work session last Wednesday evening to review the recommendations of a city compensation advisory committee they appointed last August. Five years earlier, councilors adopted a formula for stipend amounts and advised future councils to appoint a committee every five years to review and reevaluate compensation levels.

"Bend is growing fast, has been growing fast, and will continue to grow fast," Louis Capozzi, vice chair of the Council Compensation Review Committee, said Tuesday. "That means more responsibility and more work for the for the elected officials that guide our city forward."

Their current salaries are based on 10% of the city's average median income for councilors and 20% for the mayor, due to his or her extra duties, and they adjusted automatically every two years. Mayor Melanie Kebler currently receives about $1,600 a month, or nearly $20,000 a year, and councilors about $800 a month, or nearly $10,000 a year.

Councilor Ariel Mendez told us Tuesday, "I don't think anybody is in this for the money - and you shouldn't be. Nobody should get rich serving. But money shouldn't be a reason not to serve, either."

After several meetings, a nine-member citizen committee chaired by former state lawmaker Judy Stiegler proposed an increase to a $50,000-a-year salary for the mayor and councilors $30,000 a year, along with a $3,000 health and wellness stipend.

The presentation (see below) moved through the policies and considerations involved, the mayor and councilors’ roles and expectations, the time spent in those duties and the goals of the stipends, primarily to “encourage a wider diversity of people to serve on council.”

Other cities in Oregon and Washington were reviewed and their stipends, and where Bend is by comparison  –  including some who don’t provide such compensation at all. It also noted the $125,000 salary for Deschutes County commissioners – a full-time role, but also a policy-making body, with daily management in the hands of a city manager (or county administrator).

In their recommendations, the Council Compensation Review Committee noted, “As Bend has grown, serving on Council has become increasingly time-consuming and complex,” including more complex issues and more engagement at the local, state, regional and federal levels.

The new formula would begin with flat annual amounts, with yearly adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index, starting in 2026. The offer of health insurance would be elective coverage for themselves and dependents, with a contribution rate of a 90/10 cost split.

Even though the raises would not take effect until after each position goes through an election (four seats are on the ballot this fall, the other three in 2026), the city attorney’s office provided a memo on the ethical considerations involved, including that each councilor should declare potential conflicts of interest at each meeting where the pay matter is discussed – unless they know for sure that they won’t run again.

A formal approval process is to follow, starting with a planned first reading at their next meeting on May 1, but councilors expressed general support for the recommendation, with Kebler calling it “a solid proposal.”

Councilor Mike Riley said while his children are grown, he’d seen the time challenges for colleagues with kids in school.

“It’s a big commitment,” he said, calling it “important to make it possible for a greater diversity (of Bend residents) to make it possible financially” to seek office.

Long-time Councilor Barb Campbell said while adequate compensation is important, “I don’t think anyone should be running for, or serving for the money. We are supposed to be serving our community.”

Mendez said, "Coming from the parks district board and I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what it entails. and it's it turns out it's more it's a lot of work. It's not just the public council meetings, but it's also emailing and planning and preparing for meetings."

In a similar vein, to encourage participation, councilors in 2022 adopted a stipend program for those residents who volunteer to join standing city advisory bodies, at $40 a meeting, up to $500 a year, on pre-paid debit cards.

The advisory committee stipend is not compensation for time spent, but intended to help cover expenses such as internet, parking and transportation. About 75%, or 73 of the 92 volunteers, receive the stipend at present.

That program also underwent review, as well as a survey of board, committee and commission members, and a presentation was given last Wednesday, including expansion to include ad-hoc committees, annual surveys and shifting from pre-paid cards that can be difficult to use to Venmo or direct deposit, and to highlight a check option. They also recommend looking at reimbursement for actual costs and perhaps providing equipment and supplies.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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