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Allegheny County Council to weigh pay raise for itself

Aaron Aupperlee
| Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, 11:15 a.m.

Allegheny County Council members will consider giving themselves a pay raise at their meeting Tuesday.

A bill from Councilman Michael Finnerty, D-Scott, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, recommends bumping council's annual stipend from $9,000 to $10,939. The bill suggests increasing members' individual expense accounts from $3,000 a year to $3,646.

Both are 21.5 percent increases. Council never has raised its pay in its 16-year history.

The raise to $10,939 would not take effect until 2020, after each council seat has come up for election. Pay would then increase 5 percent every five years after 2020.

“It's definitely warranted,” Finnerty said. “It's not benefiting me or anyone that's in office right now. It's just benefiting the council member's seat, not the person.”

The county's Home Rule Charter gives council a per-meeting stipend up to $9,000 a year and a $3,000 expense account. The charter allows council to increase its pay and expense account by 5 percent every five years.

Council never has done it. Finnerty's proposal would set council pay and expense accounts where they would be in 2020 had members taken the allowed 5 percent increases.

The bill notes that council member stipends would top $12,500 and expense accounts would approach $4,200 this year if pay were adjusted with inflation.

Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, questioned whether the current council can vote to give a future council pay raises that past councils chose not to take. The charter allows council to increase their pay every five years but not by more than 20 percent after 20 years, Haulk said.

Haulk didn't like the automatic nature of raises in the future. He said council members should have to stand up every five years and vote for a raise.

Some council members felt the less than $2,000 raise proposed by Finnerty wasn't enough. Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, said he would like more money but likely will vote for the bill to help future council members make more.

“It probably won't do much for a lot of us now, but for future council members it might be enough,” Ellenbogen said.

The Government Review Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by county council and the county executive to suggest changes to county government, suggested stripping council members of their expense accounts and adding that money to their annual stipends in its final report issued in January. The commission also recommended raising the county executive's salary to $117,108.60 from $90,000.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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