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Lubbock’s City Council Could Get A Pay Raise. But What’s The Right Amount?

The City of Lubbock is reviewing its charter and is expected to have citizens vote on a potential pay raise for the city’s council members and mayor in November. That hasn’t happened in nearly a century. A committee has a new amount in mind, but some citizens say it is not enough and call it a barrier to participating in local government.

 

 

That includes Nick Muniz. He’s a 29-year-old teacher who fondly recalls growing up in the tight-knit Guadalupe neighborhood of North Lubbock. He said the city has changed in recent years, mostly for the better. 

“Being from here is one of the things I take a lot of pride in,” Muniz said in a recent interview. 

 

Muniz said he sees a lot of potential in his hometown. He has ideas about making city resources more equitable and appealing to younger citizens so they’re less interested in moving away.

But Muniz said he sometimes feels like he’s shouting into a void. 

“I kind of got tired of really seeing people not having the opportunity to feel like they’re heard,” Muniz said.

In 2018, Muniz briefly ran to represent District 1 on the city council. He withdrew his candidacy for a few reasons. But one of the main ones was compensation. 

It’s not the lowest pay in the state, but it’s not the highest either. For around 100 years, Lubbock’s city council representatives have made $25 a month. The mayor makes $75 per month, meaning $900 a year. 

To put that into perspective, the border city of Laredo has a similar local government structure and population size to Lubbock, with just over 250,000 residents. But, the Laredo mayor earns $75,000 a year and council members each make $50,000.

Lubbock’s elected officials do get some additional benefits - health insurance, travel, cell phone and car allowances. But Muniz said it’s not enough. 

“I still have bills to pay. I still have to pay student loans back. I still have a car payment, I still have a cell phone payment,” Muniz said. “So you’re expecting me to give 100% of my time, but you don’t want to give me 100% of the pay?”

Dozens of citizens, like Muniz, have shown up at public hearings in support of changing top local officials’ salaries to a living wage. They say most people can’t afford the time it would take to serve on the council while having a full-time job.

 

Based on the average income in Lubbock, $60,000 a year was thrown out as one amount. In a Lubbock Compact survey, which received 231 responses, 65% of participants supported that amount. Conversely, in a Lubbock Chamber of Commerce survey answered by 525 people, a full salary was the least popular option with 13% of respondents in favor.

Lubbock banker James Arnold is chair of the charter review committee. He said during one recent meeting that he understands that people are pushing for a living wage. 

“But it kind of comes down to,” he said, “what is the intent of that role, of that individual?”

During long discussions, Arnold and other members of the committee have debated what the right amount of pay is for the city’s elected officials. An adjustment for inflation has always been on the table. But a lot of the conversations circle back to how the city’s government works.   

The council and mayor create policy, but the city manager is the one in charge, supported by the city’s attorney and secretary. Because of that, Arnold said the elected officials shouldn’t be paid like staff.

“They’re not employees of the city,” he said at one meeting. 

Karen Gibson, another committee member who previously represented District 5 on the city council, agreed. She said the city council only has so much power. For her, the work doesn’t qualify for a full salary. 

Since the pay has been considered low for so long, serving on the city council is often seen as a volunteer position. Members of the charter review committee have said they want people to run because they’re civic-minded, not because of money. 

Still, Arnold announced in a meeting this week that the committee reached a number. They’re likely to recommend council representatives should be paid $800 a month and the mayor $1,300. That’s about $9,600 a year for council members and $15,600 for the mayor. 

It’s a wage committee member Jimmy Gomez said he supports. He’s been the most vocal of the group to push for a higher wage. 

“I would like to get it more, but you know what, I’m really happy with the numbers. The 800 and the 13,” Gomez said. “I would like more, but it sure is better than $25.”

As for citizens like Nick Muniz, it still isn’t enough. 

“I think that’s a number that’s a number very out of touch with reality,” he said. 

For now, Muniz said he’ll find other ways to make a difference in his community.

 

The Charter Review Committee will host an opportunity for citizen comments on Monday at 1 p.m. in the council chambers at Citizens Tower. Sign-up is required prior to speaking. Citizens can also submit comments online by 9 a.m. Monday to citizencomments@mylubbock.us.

 

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at saselfwa@ttu.edu. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

 

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