Beginning in 2018, Tompkins County legislators will earn the county’s living wage.

A resolution passed 8 to 6 Tuesday to raise legislators’ salary from $19,075 to $21,400. Legislators spent more than an hour and a half debating the issue.

The terms for current legislators will be up in 2017, and the raise will be in effect from 2018 to 2021.

The living wage in Tompkins County, as calculated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union in 2015 is $13.77 per hour for an employee whose job includes benefits.

Advocates for legislators earning a living wage said the increase would increase diversity and allow more people to be able to run for the position. Legislators against the increase argued that they have a job with few requirements — legislators must live in the district and be of voting age. Others also argued that part of legislators’ service should be volunteer.

Legislature Chair Mike Lane, D-Dryden, also said Tompkins County legislators make “significantly” more than other legislators in the region.

Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, said if legislators earned a living wage, it would open the door for diversity. Kelles did not agree that the position should be volunteer.

“That is a position that someone can take if they have enough wealth to volunteer their time,” Kelles said. “And people who do not have that ability are automatically excluded from taking part in the government and having a voice at the table, and that is everything that we’re saying that we’re supposed to be standing for.”

At the Tompkins County Legislature meeting Tuesday evening, several members of the public spoke in favor of legislators making a living wage, like Eric Chen, of Ithaca.

“I strongly believe that everyone deserves a living wage,” Chen said. “It would enable people from all backgrounds to serve and increase diversity.”

Robertson, who voted against the raise, said the position of legislator is roughly a half-time job. However, as Robertson mentioned, legislators do not have to report how much time they spend each week. She said she does not think making a little more money would increase diversity, instead she said term limits would make a difference.

The salary increases will cost taxpayers more than $134,000 between 2018 and 2021.

“That’s a lot of money we could use a lot of different ways to help our constituents,” Robertson said.

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, D-Ithaca, voted in favor of the increase. She said she spoke to a woman at the Tompkins County Housing Summit who talked out about her experience with housing. McBean-Clairborne said she asked what it takes to run for office.

“That’s a beautiful voice to have around this table, but I know full well that she wouldn’t be able to do this and be able to support her children without decent compensation,” she said.

Ultimately, Legislators Glenn Morey, Martha Robertson, Mike Sigler, Jim Dennis, Rich John and Chair Michael Lane voted no.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.