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Just as there is no typical city, there is no typical pay scale for mayors, either. From tiny towns and villages to the largest metropolises, a U.S. mayor salary can range from nearly nothing to several hundred thousand dollars per year. Many variables affect how much a mayor makes in salary.
From presiding over town meetings to presenting an esteemed visitor with a key to the city, the duties of a mayor vary widely. Depending on the type of government a town or city has, the job of mayor may be full time or part time and filled with decision-making that can truly affect its citizens, or it may be largely ceremonial.
Mayors are often the public face of a city, large or small. However, in addition to attending public events, waving from the lead car in parades and interacting with residents, many mayors have fiscal and governance responsibilities, too. They may help to prepare the town's annual budget and oversee its implementation, preside over city council meetings where policy decisions are made, welcome important visitors to the town, present civic and community awards, implement legislation, and oversee the smooth operation of the city's police, fire, utility and sanitation departments and other infrastructure and safety systems.
Education and Other Requirements
While some cities' job descriptions for the position of mayor require a college degree, there is no overarching rule demanding that mayors have a post-secondary degree. In many areas across the country, officially only a high school degree is required.
Still, most people who aspire to public office at any level have a college degree. For one thing, mayor is an elected position, and voters are often skeptical of candidates running for any office who don't have college degrees, questioning whether they have enough knowledge to handle the job. While being mayor doesn't carry the level of responsibility of a senator, the job usually requires understanding finances and budgeting. Also, since it's a managerial position, mayors benefit from knowledge in administration and management principles. If a mayor aims to run for higher offices in the future, many of these do require advanced degrees. U.S. senators, for example, have advanced degrees in law, medicine and other fields.
In politics, public perception is important. One candidate with a high school degree may, in fact, be brilliant, but people will assume the one with the doctorate is smarter.
How Much Does a Mayor Make?
The median U.S. mayor salary in 2018 was $70,000 annually, with the lowest 25 percent making $46,000 or less and the highest 25 percent making $130,000 or more. A median salary is the midpoint in a list of salaries for one occupation, where half earned more and half earned less.
In small towns, especially those where the job of mayor is largely ceremonial and only part time, the job is considered almost volunteer in nature and may pay only a few thousand dollars. Some such towns have been rethinking this, though, and in recent years have considered raising their mayor salary as well as that of council members and other officials.
Basalt, Colorado, for example, raised the mayor salary in 2018 from $14,400 to $18,750 to be more in line with surrounding towns like Aspen, whose mayor makes $20,700. As smaller cities with populations of 3,857 and 6,658 respectively, you might expect their mayors to have low salaries. Denver, with just over 600,000 people, pays its mayor $172,000. Compare that to San Antonio, Texas, which, with a population of over one million, was only paying its mayor $4,040 until 2015 when voters agreed to increase it to $61,725 per year.
Some city mayors, though, are paid more than double or even triple that amount:
- Columbus, OH - $173,000
- Philadelphia, PA - $218,000
- New York City - $225,000
- Los Angeles - $238,000
- San Francisco - $289,000 (highest paid U.S. mayor)
Many, though not all, mayors also receive benefits such as medical and dental insurance. Some also are eligible to receive bonuses.
Do Mayors Get Paid for Life?
Mayors do not receive their mayor salary for life, but as city employees, mayors may be entitled to a pension like other city employees are. Two years as mayor won't cut it, though. Mayors need to have worked at other city jobs that together add up to or exceed the years of service required to receive a pension. Upon retirement, they can take their pension in a lump sum or split it into an amount they receive monthly. How long they receive the monthly payments depends on how much is in their pension account when they retire. If it's substantial, it may seem as if mayors are getting "paid for life," but it's money in their pension fund.
- CheatSheet: Is Your Mayor Raking It In? 15 U.S. Cities With the Highest Paid Mayors
- The Aspen Times: Basalt Mayor, Council Members Will Get Hefty Pay Hike
- PayScale: City Mayor Salary
- New York Times: Running for High Office Without Higher Education
- BallotPedia: City of San Antonio Council and Mayor Salaries, Amendment 2 (May 2015)
- Suburban Stats: List of Counties and Cities in Colorado