Helena Mayor Jim Smith and city commissioners at an August city commission meeting

HELENA – The Helena City Commission is exploring whether to increase the salary for mayor and city commissioner positions.

“It’s been I believe 8 years since that’s happened,” Ron Alles, Helena City Manager, said.

Currently, the mayor receives $8,500 a year plus a monthly $150 expense allowance. Commissioners receive $6,800 a year plus a $100 monthly expense allowance.

The salaries could rise by around $1,000 to $2,000 each year. Those raises would bring the compensation closer to what other cities in Montana pay their leaders. For example, the median annual salary for mayor in 6 of Montana’s big cities is $9,300, about 10 percent higher than Helena. For commissioners, the gap is even bigger with other cities paying about 15 percent more.

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“I think the new salary is a fairer salary than the previous one,” Alles said.

The Helena city charter requires the passage of an ordinance by the commission before the salaries can be changed, but there is a catch. If approved, the bump in pay won’t become effective until 2020.

“If they pass the new ordinance, it won’t take effect until January of 2020. That way, for the most part, no sitting commissioner takes an action on his own salary. So by design, the city has set up that safeguard,” Alles said.

At Wednesday’s city administrative meeting, much of the conversation centered around the possible change in pay. Leaders pondered increasing health benefits for the mayor and commissioners in lieu of a pay bump. However, the commission said it didn’t want to give itself benefits that other city employees wouldn’t receive.

The commission is expected to vote on the matter in the coming weeks.