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Borough mayor gets $31 thousand raise

 Borough Attorney Sean Kelley and Assembly Members Richard Derkevorkian and Tyson Cox amend the mayoral raise ordinance.
Riley Board
Borough Attorney Sean Kelley and Assembly Members Richard Derkevorkian and Tyson Cox amend the mayoral raise ordinance.

After more than a decade of flat pay, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor is getting a raise.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted on Feb. 7 to give a $31-thousand raise to the borough mayor, bringing that salary up to $130 thousand.

The Kenai Peninsula doesn’t currently have a permanent mayor. It’s holding a special election to fill that seat next week, on Feb.14.

Mike Navarre, who is serving in the role as interim mayor, brought the idea to the assembly because he says the mayor had not received a salary raise in 12 years. The mayor’s salary was set at $99 thousand in 2011, and hasn’t gone up since; if adjusting for inflation, the current salary would be $170 thousand, according to the ordinance.

Assembly Member Tyson Cox was also a sponsor.

“We’re talking about the person who is in charge of a $171 million budget,” he said during Tuesday’s assembly meeting. “I think that deserves some respect and I think having an increase up to $130 thousand for that wage is not too much.”

Another reason for the raise is that the borough mayor position is technically a manager-mayor position, but was not being compensated as such.

Assembly Member Lane Chesley explained that while some municipalities have both an elected mayor and a hired manager, the borough mayor serves both roles.

“If we’re going to be in this model where we’re going to be paying a professional to perform the professional duties, we have to have a professional compensation package,” Chesley said.

The assembly also discussed the salaries of other Alaska borough mayors and local city managers — all of which were larger. The borough mayor position also does not come with health care benefits or enrollment in a retirement program.

The original version of the ordinance created a mechanism to adjust the salary for inflation every three years going forward. However, at Tuesday’s assembly meeting, that measure received pushback from both the public and assembly members.

Assembly Member Richard Derkevorkian pointed out that as the policy was written, the mayor would hypothetically receive an 8% raise this year.

“No one in the private sector is getting an 8% raise this year. It’s just not gonna happen,” he said. “I’m opposed to that.”

Derkevorkian worked with Cox and Borough Attorney Sean Kelley to revise this portion. The new version of the ordinance instead requires the assembly to manually evaluate the mayor’s salary at the end of each term and make adjustments — but only if they want to.

The amended ordinance passed unanimously.

The raise will not apply to interim mayor Navarre, and will kick in when the next full mayoral term starts in October. The special election for borough mayor is next Tuesday, but if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, it will move to a runoff election in March.

Correction: A previous version of the story said the raise would apply to the winner of the special election. It will apply to the next full-term mayor. The error has been corrected.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.