Portland City Council members, other top leaders could see big raises

By Alex Zielinski (OPB)
June 20, 2023 11:57 p.m.

As the size of Portland city government is set to expand, so might the size of officials’ paychecks.

A draft proposal by the five-person salary commission proposes a pay hike for officials elected to Portland’s new form of government in 2025, which will expand the size of City Council from four to 12 members. Under this coming restructure, City Council members will no longer oversee city bureaus, but serve as more traditional legislators representing geographic districts and proposing city policy. They also can’t accept outside employment.

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The plan would boost the mayor’s base salary by 17% – to $175,463 from $149,261 – and increase City Council members’ annual pay by 13% – to $142,404 from $125,694. It would also give the city auditor a 34% pay raise, increasing the base salary of $125,694 to $168,758. Any multilingual elected officials would get an additional 4% salary increase.

Salary commission member Abby Engers, a human resources manager at Portland recruitment firm Boly:Welch, explained that the group’s proposed pay rates reflect a “thriving wage” salary for a single parent of one child.

“I think people are very familiar with what a living wage is,” Engers said. “A thriving wage is defined as all the costs of living, but also the ability to save and do more to give back to the community, to travel, to invest in your family, whatever that looks like.”

To reach that number, Engers said the group studied market pay data for elected officials in cities with comparable populations to Portland and interviewed past elected officials about financial constraints. They also considered how past salaries have kept some Portlanders from considering public office.

“I think one of the biggest factors for us was making sure that whatever we decided would open opportunities to folks who had historically not been represented,” Engers said. “And that anything that we decided wouldn’t be a deterrent to running or holding office.”

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The proposed salaries for Portland officials are comparable to how much Multnomah County Commissioners earn. As of July 2022, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson made $207,486 annually, while the four county commissioners made $125,000. These salaries were also set by a volunteer commission.

State and local elected officials, including the highest positions in Oregon politics, earn far less. The base pay for most Oregon lawmakers is $35,052, although they are allowed to hold outside jobs. The Oregon governor is paid $98,600, while the state’s treasurer and secretary of state each earn $77,000 annually. Former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said this low pay motivated her to seek a lucrative – yet controversial — consulting contract with a cannabis company that led to her resignation.

The state Legislature is currently pushing a proposal that would ask voters to establish a commission to set salaries for state elected officials.

The city’s salary commission was established in the same November 2022 ballot measure to change Portland’s government structure. Per the city charter, the new commission must be made up of human resource professionals and meet every two years to reassess city officials’ salaries. The initial salary commission has been meeting regularly since March and must pass a salary proposal by Aug. 1. Three out of five members must approve the proposal for it to pass.

The salary increase would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025.

The commission is not responsible for proposing how the city pays for costlier salaries. It will be up to the current City Council to identify funding in the 2024 city budget cycle.

A report from the Bureau of Human Resources included in the salary proposal estimated that council members will have smaller staff sizes under the new council model, which could reduce personnel costs.

The commission is holding five public hearings in July to get public input on its salary proposal. Engers said she’s eager to hear outside perspectives.

“I think our recommendation is higher than some people might have expected,” she said. “But I’m pretty confident that our recommendations are in alignment with the city’s values.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the proposed raises for city council members and the auditor. A previous version of this story had incorrect figures.

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