By Sallie James
Boca Raton voters will decide in August if their elected officials should get pay raises that more than quadruple their salaries.
City Council members in January approved the proposed referendum 4-1, saying higher salaries might help attract a wider slate of candidates.
“It’s almost a full-time job — about 20 to 30 hours,” said council member Mike Mullaugh, who proposed the salary hikes. “Passing this is the best way to get the people you don’t like off. If you want to change what is on the council now, increase the salaries and encourage more people to run and you can find the kind of person you want.”
In Boca Raton, pay raises must be approved by voters through a charter change.
The ordinance links 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.
It also provides for annual increases.
According to the ordinance, if Palm Beach County commissioners’ salaries are raised, Boca officials’ salaries will be raised the same amount.
The ballot measure will be added to the Aug. 30 primary election so voters can approve or disapprove the proposed salary hikes. If approved, the pay hikes would become effective in October 2017.
Boca’s mayor currently gets $750 a month, or $9,000 a year. Council members earn $600 a month, or $7,200 a year. Previous attempts in 2004 and 2006 both failed.
Council member Scott Singer has opposed the measure from inception and continued to do so, saying he believes the idea of salary hikes should originate with voters, not the elected officials it would affect.
“I continue to think that a charter amendment to increase salaries should start organically with the residents,” Singer said. He suggested that residents circulate petitions seeking support for the salary hikes to amend the charter as a city initiative.
“I thought it should start with the people to garner enough support for the measure based on two previous (unsuccessful) attempts to pass this,” Singer said.
Mayor Susan Haynie said Boca officials serve on more than 13 state, regional and county boards in addition to the time spent preparing for Boca’s meetings. In August, Haynie will also take on the role of president of the Florida League of Cities. Her message was simple: The jobs of elected official are very time-consuming and the pay is low.
“We are just voting to put this before the people. I do think it will open up the availability of individuals who would like to serve here,” Haynie said.
Council member Robert Weinroth said higher salaries will make it easier for people to serve in a position that is so time-consuming and might increase the field of people willing to serve.
“This will allow other people to come out and run for election,” Weinroth said. “I think it’s time to put this before the electorate.
“I am sure whether it is voted up or down, that none of us is going to make a decision whether we are going to run for the position based on the salary,” Weinroth said.
City activist James Hendrey voiced support for the measure but didn’t want anyone on the current council to be eligible for the salary hike because of the way sitting council members seemed to favor development.
“I think this is an important move to get more people engaged in the process,” Hendrey said.
By Sallie James