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Voters approve change to the way Allegheny County Council members are paid

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County voters on Tuesday chose to change the way their county council members are paid.

Allegheny County voters on Tuesday chose to change the way their county council members are paid.

Under the terms of the county Home Rule Charter, council members have been allotted a per-meeting stipend that maxes out at $10,939 a year, rather than a salary.

Voters rejected that language Tuesday, instead deciding that the 15-member council should receive their compensation in the form of a “salary.”

The amount that councilors can get paid will not change as a result of the vote, assuming they were to attend most of next year’s meetings.

But a 2016 government review commission report found that “compensation through per-meeting stipends is confusing, susceptible to multiple interpretations and unnecessary.” It also asserted that changing the terms of payment would also bring the county in line with other municipalities that pay their legislators a “salary,” rather than a “stipend.”

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Democrat Bob Macey introduced a bill to put the question to voters earlier this year. He argued that the change would better reflect the fact that most of the job of serving on council occurs outside of the body’s twice-monthly meetings. He added that being paid as a salary would provide a steadier source of income for members who rely on the money to pay bills.

Fellow Democrat Bethany Hallam, a critic of the proposed change, countered that payment should be contingent on attendance at meetings. She said the per-meeting stipend had encouraged members to do their jobs and represent their constituents — and that changing the formula would make members less likely to attend meetings, when council ultimately takes official action.

Council voted 11-3 to send the question to voters, with Hallam and council allies Olivia Bennett and Jack Betkowski the only members to vote against it.

The question had at least symbolic value. Structuring the payment as a “stipend” provision was originally in keeping with a perception by government reformers at the time that council should be a part-time body of citizen legislators subordinate to the county executive. Another provision of the charter barred council members from running for some other political office.

In recent years, however, council members have sought a broader role, flexing their muscles with legislation on environmental and health issues. Last fall, they presented voters with a question to repeal the “resign to run” charter provision, and voters obliged. The result Tuesday showed that voters were also willing to grant their wishes on how their pay was structured.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at