Belgrade residents will decide whether to raise the pay of their elected officials next spring after the city council voted last week to put the question on the May 3 ballot.

Voters also will choose whether to give future councils the authority to enact future raises rather than put the question to a vote of the citizenry. The current city charter stipulates that raises for city council members and the mayor be made by citizens; passage of the measure that will appear on the May 3, 2022 ballot would allow future councils to change council stipends by ordinance.

If voters approve the ballot measure, the mayor’s and council members’ compensation would be doubled to $200 per month.

The idea to raise stipends for city councilors initially was raised at a council meeting in August by Belgrade resident Elizabeth Marum, who is also a member of the city Planning Board.

Marum said Belgrade’s current compensation for council members of $1,200 per year is the lowest in the valley and hasn’t been raised for nearly 20 years.

“Belgrade is 1.6 times larger than it was in 2004 when salaries were set,” Marum said. “Twelve-hundred dollars a year is the lowest in the valley.”

Marum added that she believes the low compensation may deter some citizens from stepping up to serve on the council, a job that requires from its members a considerable amount of advance preparation in addition to attendance at two council meetings per month. Some council members also serve on one or more city boards.

At the August meeting, then-City Manager Ted Barkley agreed with Marum that the compensation rate may deter some citizens from running for a council seat.

“It’s come up several times as a barrier to people volunteering to serve,” he said.

Since the outset of the discussion, most of Belgrade’s council members have been visibly uncomfortable discussing their stipends. One exception is Kristine Menicucci, who is finishing her second four-year term on the council and was re-elected last week to her third.

Though Menicucci never has accepted any compensation for serving on the council, she is one member firmly in favor of raising the rate. She has said she believes some younger people – especially young women – may be deterred from seeking a council position because they have children at home, and the stipend isn’t enough to cover the cost of a baby-sitter.

“We need some younger members, and it doesn’t always have to be males, because males leave the house and leave mom home with the kids,” Menicucci said in August. If there’s a “single mom who wants to go into public service, then that’s another burden.

“I think we have to keep up with the times,” Menicucci added. “I think we need to compensate people who are willing to step up and give their time. It is work, and it has to be appreciated.”

Other members, including Ward 3 Councilman Brad Cooper whose final term on the council expires on Dec. 31, said he doesn’t think raise will make a lot of difference in recruiting citizens to public service. He also doesn’t approve of changing the city charter to allow future councils to enact raises by passing an ordinance3.

“I’m against changing the charter,” Cooper said. “I want to keep it where the people vote on it.”

Ken Smith, who did not seek re-election for another term and will leave the council at the end of the December, joined Cooper in voting against the resolution last week.

Council members Mike Meis, Jim Doyle and Jim Simon voted with Menicucci to place the resolution on the May 3 ballot.

Cooper will be succeeded by Martha Sellers, who ran unopposed for the Ward 3 seat. Smith was succeeded by write-in candidate Renae Mattimoe, who also ran unopposed.

When Mattimoe and Sellers take office in January, the make-up of the council will be evenly split by gender, with three men and three women members, an apparent first.

Russ Nelson was elected to his 10th two-year term as mayor in last week’s election.