By Joe Capozzi
For the second time in less than five years, the South Palm Beach Town Council gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that will raise the salaries of the mayor and council members.
If the measure is approved on second reading Oct. 12, the monthly salaries for mayor and four council members will double — to $1,000 for the mayor and $600 for the council — the next time they win election.
“I don’t think it’s an extreme amount of money,’’ Mayor Bonnie Fischer said at a workshop Sept. 10, three days before the council voted 4-1 to pass the ordinance on first reading.
Councilman Mark Weissman voted against the measure, not because he opposes the raises but because he thinks the town charter should include language for determining pay increases for the mayor and council.
In 2017, the council voted to raise the mayor’s salary to $500 from $250 and the council members’ to $300 from $250.
The council salaries had effectively been $250 since 1995; the salaries went up to $300 around 2006 before the council reduced its monthly pay by $50 in 2011 because of the economic effects of the mortgage crisis, Town Manager Robert Kellogg said.
Before 1995, the council members had been receiving $150 a month since 1972, he said.
“I certainly think it’s time for a raise,’’ Councilman Bill LeRoy said. “We are underpaid and we’re going to be underpaid again if we don’t change this.”
Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb agreed. “It should have been done a long time ago,’’ he said.
If the raises are passed, they wouldn’t take effect until after the March elections and only for the three seats up for that election: the mayor’s post and the council seats held by Weissman and LeRoy. Those raises would cost the town about $6,600 in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.
The other council seats, held by Gottlieb and Ray McMillan, wouldn’t get the pay raises until after those spots come up for election in March 2024.
At LeRoy’s request, the council will discuss at its next meeting Oct. 12 whether council members should return some of their monthly salaries if they are out of town or away from meetings for an extended time.
In other business, the town will negotiate a contract with the architectural firm Synalovski Romanik Saye to design options for a new Town Hall.
SRS, based in Fort Lauderdale, was ranked first by the Town Council among four firms that gave presentations at a special meeting Sept. 22. The other firms, in order of their rankings, were Song & Associates, CPZ Architects and Knight Architects.
The council could consider the contract as early as its October meeting. If the council votes to hire the firm, it will mark the fourth time in six years, and first since March 2020, the town will take a hard look at renovating the existing 45-year-old building or building a new one. Since 2016, the town has spent about $55,000 to study the idea.
• Council members asked the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to enforce an ordinance that bans dogs on public beaches. Deputies have been issuing warnings, but Fischer said she still sees too many people with dogs at the beach and in the water, which she fears will attract sharks and endanger swimmers.
“I say fine them now,’’ LeRoy said, referring to the $150 cost for each violation. “Give them a ticket. They’ll tell their friends. If they’re just being warned, they continue to do it.’’
• The council approved a sewer rate of $2.53 per fixture, the same rate as last year. The vote on Sept. 13 came after an August public hearing and proper notification to residents. Eighteen months ago, the Inspector General faulted the town for improperly billing residents for a sewer rate increase during a three-year period beginning in October 2016. The IG said the town failed to adequately notify water customers of rate increases, as required by state law. As a result the town agreed to refund $455,000 to customers through credits on their sewer bills this year.
• The council approved a $2.245 million budget with a tax rate of $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. Last year’s tax rate was 3.54, but town property values went up 4% this year.