In what may have been a surprise move with an election less than two months away, the Davis City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to increase its members’ monthly salary from about $670 to just over $1,000.
Mayor Joe Krovoza, Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson and Councilwoman Sue Greenwald voted in favor of the raise. Councilmen Stephen Souza and Dan Wolk dissented.
Greenwald, Souza and Wolk are seeking re-election on June 5, challenged by Lucas Frerichs, chairman of the Davis Planning Commission, and Brett Lee, an industrial engineer. Both challengers were sitting in the Community Chambers at City Hall during the council’s deliberations.
The council also approved an ordinance Tuesday that will allow council members, if they so choose, to take $500 per month in deferred compensation in place of health benefits, which cost the city $1,500 monthly per council member.
If a council member opts for the $500, he or she would save the city $1,000 a month. If all five council members chose health insurance through their jobs or spouses’ plans or some other option, the city could save $60,000 per year.
But there was disagreement on the dais about whether any type of council compensation should be increased at a time when the city faces a budget picture riddled with question marks.
Krovoza made the motion to approve the deferred compensation ordinance and received three votes in support. Wolk, who dissented, said he doesn’t believe this is the right time for such action.
“Joe, I really think where you’re coming from here, it makes a lot of sense,” Wolk said. “I just can’t support it in the midst of contract negotiations like this. I won’t be supporting it, but I think your heart is in the right place, Joe, on this one.”
The mayor, however, said he believes allowing council members to receive the same compensation as new part-time employees — compensation that could save the city money — is smart policy.
“We’re talking about having the council being treated the same as employees and we’re talking about the potential to save up to $48,000 for the city when we’ve got tight budget times,” Krovoza said. “So I think it’s smart fiscally and I think it’s equitable.”
Greenwald added that scrimping on compensation for council members may hurt the city in the long run because it does nothing to attract potential candidates who want to serve.
“(Council members) work 40 to 60 hours a week and we get virtually no pay,” Greenwald said. “That is an unusual situation. I think it’s very shortsighted on the part of government because I think we need good people and we need people to stay and not just use it as a stepping stone to a higher office that does get paid.”
Wolk countered that he believes the council should be mindful of how all public funds are handled, including council member compensation.
“Council members in other jurisdictions are coming under criticism for doing that (voting themselves raises),” Wolk said. “I’m not saying I agree with that, but I think in this time we have to be especially cognizant of our public finances and how taxpayers are viewing those finances.”
As for the raise in monthly stipends, Swanson, like Greenwald, worried that leaving salaries at their current levels could deter potential candidates who can’t afford to choose council service over a full-time job.
“For a lot of folks who I think would be amazing council members, they just can’t do it because of the lack of compensation,” Swanson said. “Not that it needs to be something large, but I do think we have to look a couple of ripples down the pond when decisions are made like this.”
Souza said he doesn’t feel comfortable raising the council’s salary, and added that a few hundred dollars likely will not attract more potential candidates.
“I think service on behalf of the community is supposed to be the attractor factor,” Souza said. “I totally agree that it would be nice to compensate ourselves more for our time, but going from $600 to $1,000, it’s a small compensation; it’s a very small compensation.”
Council members have not had a raise since April 2000. The city can adjust council members’ salaries only every two years, but the amount can be increased up to 5 percent each calendar year.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash