AMMON – The whiteboard in Micah Austin’s office has an evolving list of daily tasks and focuses. The left side of the board contains a list of the mayor’s priorities in order of importance. On the right is a list of issues on the city council agenda and grants that have been awarded for various projects.
Austin, 41, serves as Ammon’s city administrator. His primary role is to manage the city’s day-to-day operations, which includes communicating with nine department heads, handling all hiring and personnel matters, overseeing the budget and implementing projects and policies set forth by the mayor.
“What I do is entirely without any sort of political influence. My job is objective, nonpartisan and I’m a professional. I went to school for this position. I have a masters in city management,” Austin tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Unlike the mayor or members of the city council, Austin’s role is a full-time executive position and he’s paid handsomely to do it. Public records obtained from the city indicate his annual salary is $130,540.80. That’s nearly nine times what the part time mayor — whose annual salary is $15,000 — gets paid. Those funds come from the city’s 10 revenue streams – the largest two being general and wastewater funds.
Mayor and city council salaries are outlined in city code. Salaries for the city administrator and other professional staff are based on the market rate for those positions in a city of 19,000 people, which is Ammon’s population, according to the latest census data.
Despite being one of the highest paid city employees, Austin is directly accountable to the mayor. If Austin’s role is akin to a business manager, then the mayor is the CEO and the city council is the board of directors.
“Micah and I communicate on a daily basis about what’s going on in the city,” Mayor Sean Coletti says. “He’s asking my direction on things. We’re a team.”
Mayor, city council salaries
Ammon is just one of dozens of cities in the Gem State with a part-time mayor and full-time city administrator. Others include Driggs and Mackay. In Driggs, the mayor’s annual salary is $35,500 and the city administrator is paid $102,294 a year. The mayor of Mackay makes $900 a year and the city administrator is paid $35,235.
In Salmon, the mayor, city council and city administrator are part-time positions. Their respective annual salaries are $11,400, $6,000 and $48,000.
Across the board, city administrators are paid significantly more than the mayor and council members.
There are many other communities with a part-time mayor and city council who do not have a city administrator. This is the case for small towns like Preston, Challis, Shelley, Rigby and St. Anthony.
In Preston, the mayor’s yearly salary is $15,600. City council members are paid $9,600 a year.
The Challis mayor currently makes $6,000 a year. In January, that will increase to $9,000. The annual salary for city council members is $3,000.
The mayor’s annual salary in Shelley is $12,000 with $6,000 going to city council members.
Beginning in January, the Rigby mayor’s annual salary will increase from $12,000 to $15,000. City council members will make $6,000.
In St. Anthony, the mayor is paid $12,000 a year and city council members are paid $5,400.
Other cities, such as Rexburg, Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, Pocatello and Chubbuck, have a full-time mayor and part-time city council, and their salary reflects that. In these cases, there may be several professional staff members that perform daily tasks similar to what a city administrator would do.
Here’s what mayors and city council members are paid yearly in these communities:
- Rexburg – $94,243 (effective Jan. 2024)
- Idaho Falls – $86,000
- Blackfoot – $65,000
- Pocatello – $95,867.36 (effective Jan. 2024)
- Chubbuck – $63,402
- Rexburg – $10,980 (effective Jan. 2024)
- Idaho Falls – $13,000
- Blackfoot – $6,000
- Pocatello – $14,647.96 (effective Jan. 2024)
- Chubbuck – $8,295
Some of those cities also include benefits.
We reached out to cities in other parts of the state as well. Coeur’d Alene has a part-time mayor and full-time city administrator. Beginning in January, its mayor will make $38,400 annually with city council members making $15,000. The city administrator’s annual salary is $188,780.
Boise and Twin Falls have not responded.
Data about the highest paid mayor in the state is not available. Legislation passed in 2021 gives the State Controller’s office until 2025 to compile a variety of financial reports for counties, cities and other local districts. It will be accessible here.
The case for city administrators and part-time mayors
Though Idaho Falls does not have a city administrator, Mayor Rebecca Casper says it should because there are advantages to having a paid professional in that position.
“You’re able to have the best of both worlds,” Casper explains. “You have an active and engaged mayor, but you also have a city administrator who brings to the job the skills that not all elected mayors will have — a background in municipal budgeting, HR skills, understanding and awareness of public safety laws.”
Now in her third term, Casper says these are things she’s come to learn on the job but it would’ve saved a lot of time and effort to have a professional who had the knowledge to begin with.
Austin agrees, adding that having an administrator and other professionals on board brings stability and consistency to city management.
“As your city councils change, as your mayors change, your professional manager remains the same,” says Austin. “Most of what we do in city government has nothing to do with (political power). It’s mostly about … keeping the water running, keeping the sewer flowing downhill, filling the potholes and repairing the streets.”
“Even if you have a full-time mayor, you should still have a professional manager because they’re two different positions,” Austin adds.
Still, an administrator’s daily priorities can change once a new mayor is elected.
While having a full-time mayor provides city residents with more direct access, Coletti says being a part-time mayor is in line with Ammon’s values and has proven to be beneficial over time.
“Do we want someone who is there for a full-time job? Or do we want someone who is sacrificing some time out of their regular job to make Ammon a better place? The city council chose the latter. They could make a different decision in the future … but it’s worked well and I’m proud of the things we’ve been able to do with it,” he says.