By Sallie James
The Boca Raton City Council postponed discussion of an ordinance that would give city lawmakers a raise, planning to address in January the possibility of setting the wage level at a percentage of Palm Beach County Commission salaries and putting the question to voters in August. The city’s elected officials say they’re underpaid and need a raise, but how and if they will ever get one is a complicated process that depends on voters.
City Council members last month spent nearly an hour discussing a proposed ordinance that would have tied council salaries to those of state legislators. They also considered linking salaries to those of the Palm Beach County commissioners.
In the end, however, they decided to postpone the issue and take a fresh look this month.
“The reason to do this is simply because it is the right thing to do, not because we absolutely need to,” said City Council member Mike Mullaugh, who proposed the ordinance but wouldn’t be affected by it because he cannot run for office again because of term limits.
Is this a good idea and how do you feel about attaching it to the salary of other elected officials, he asked.
Council member Robert Weinroth lauded Mullaugh for proposing the issue, adding that council members “certainly understand (they) signed on for this job at a salary that is modest.”
Weinroth liked Mullaugh’s proposal but wanted the measure to be considered by voters in March 2016 instead of November 2016.
After much discussion about when the proposal should be placed on the ballot, council members favored August. They instructed the city attorney to draft a new ordinance for consideration that ties council raises to a percentage of the salaries of Palm Beach County commissioners; establishes those percentages of 40 percent for the mayor and 30 percent for council members; and sets the ordinance’s effective date as Oct. 1, 2016.
As part of the discussion, city activist Glenn Gromann voiced strong support for pay hikes, calling elected officials’ existing pay scale a sort of “archaic indentured servant situation.” Resident Kevin Meaney also favored raises, saying they would enable more people to run for office who otherwise could not afford to.
Mullaugh suggested tying pay hikes to those of other public officials because any change to Boca’s salaries must be done by referendum. Boca’s elected officials haven’t had a pay hike since 1984.
Boca’s mayor is paid $750 a month, or $9,000 a year. Council members earn $600 a month, or $7,200 a year. Attempts in 2004 and 2006 to get voters to approve raises both failed. Mullaugh suggested a referendum seeking pay hikes in the hope of encouraging more candidates to run for office.
The job, considered part-time, often requires 20 to 30 hours a week, because elected officials have to attend city workshops, council meetings, Community Redevelopment Agency meetings and a variety of other municipal events in addition to studying meeting materials to understand the issues, he said.
Under Mullaugh’s proposal, the annual salary of the mayor would be equal to the salary of the Florida Senate president/speaker of the House, with the annual salaries of council members equal those of state legislators.
The current salary for the Senate president/House speaker is $41,181; the current salary for Senate/House members is $29,697.
An alternate suggestion was to link Boca salaries to those of the Palm Beach County Commission, with the mayor’s salary equal to 40 percent of a county commissioner’s salary, or $38,550, and council members’ salaries equal to 30 percent of a county commissioner’s salary, or $28,766.
Because voters have twice rejected pay hikes, council member Scott Singer wondered if the measure would fare better if it started with voters.
“If there is a cry in the community to increase the pay and perhaps encourage more candidates to run, I think it should start there,” Singer said. “If you want to enhance the likelihood of its passing, I think it should start more organically.”
City Council member Jeremy Rodgers disagreed that a “signature-based introduction” was necessary to ask voters to consider council raises.
“I have heard quite a bit of support for it and I’ve heard some support against it,” Rodgers said. He quipped, “If this was an hourly job we would all have lawsuits because we are not getting paid minimum wage for the time we put in.”
Mayor Susan Haynie said the proposed pay hikes have the support of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowners, which represents all Boca homeowner associations.
The new ordinance is expected to come up for review sometime in January.