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Eau Claire City Council: Living wage again stuck in limbo

Sometimes heated council debate leads to no decision

posted March 1, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Julian Emerson. bio | email

Eau Claire City Council members discussed many facets of a living wage during a work session Tuesday but couldn’t settle on what that figure should be. 

Council members revisited the topic after deciding in November to move ahead with a possible ordinance setting a guaranteed base wage for city seasonal and part-time workers as well as those with whom the city has services contracts. The measure also could affect employees of companies receiving financial assistance from the city. 

During sometimes impassioned debate Tuesday, council members offered differing thoughts about a living wage. One possible model to follow would be one adopted in July by Eau Claire County that set an $11.68 hourly wage for affected workers. That measure took effect this year.

Several council members questioned whether such a wage is doable for city government, given budgetary constraints. 

“This isn’t just a discussion about a living wage,” Councilman Bob Von Haden said. “It’s a question of how are we going to pay for this.”

Councilman Dave Strobel said he opposes the living wage idea. The law of supply and demand will dictate salaries for jobs, he said. “Part-time workers making a living wage seems like a contradiction to me,” he said. 

 Others objected strongly to that idea. Councilwoman Kate Beaton said she backs Eau Claire County’s model, which climbs from its current wage, at 100 percent of the federal poverty rate, to 115 percent in upcoming years. 

Councilman Tim Tewalt proposed the issue be decided by city residents in the form of a referendum. Given spending limits, the added cost of boosting pay for some city workers will come at the expense of other programs, he said. “People deserve to know what services will have to be cut to pay for this,” he said. 

Such a measure is unnecessary, Councilman Andrew Werthmann said, noting the council frequently makes decisions with far larger budget impacts. “I think people are generally supportive of this idea in Eau Claire,” he said.

License denied

The council voted 9-0 Tuesday to deny a liquor license to the owner of a south side grocery store after learning the applicant’s brother faces felony charges for drug trafficking.   

Efrain Sandoval, a representative of the Sandoval Latino Market, 2742 Mall Drive, was seeking the license. His brother, Javier Sandoval-Ramirez, faces nine drug-related charges in Eau Claire County Court. He operated the Supermercado grocery at 2801 E. Hamilton Ave. 

Contact: 715-830-5911,julian.emerson@ecpc.com