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City Council members delay decision on increasing their pay

SOLANA BEACH — With two of their colleagues absent, council members at the Feb. 28 meeting opted to delay a decision on whether to give themselves a raise.

“I’d be more comfortable discussing this with the other council members present,” Mayor Ginger Marshall said.

“It might be a little bit awkward to do it with only three of us here,” Dave Zito said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Judy Hegenauer was ill. Mike Nichols participated in earlier portions of the meeting via teleconference from North Carolina. Council compensation was at the end of the agenda and he excused himself from the call by that time because of the three-hour time difference.

According to government code, council compensation can only be increased by an ordinance. Since a city council is the only body that can pass an ordinance, it’s the only one authorized to approve a raise.

State laws determine the maximum amount of an increase and when it can occur. The initial amount council members can receive is based on the city’s population.

Each bump can be no more than 5 percent for each calendar year since the last increase, not compounded. Raises can only be approved during an election year and do not go into effect until the new term of office begins.

Solana Beach council members are currently paid $712.58 a month. Five percent of that amount is $35.63. It’s been a decade since the last increase in 2008 — from $593.82 monthly — so that number is multiplied by 10, entitling them to receive an additional $356.30.

That would increase their compensation to $1,068.88 a month or $12,826.56 annually.

In addition to waiting until the full council is present, Marshall said she would prefer to discuss the issue after a budget update is presented in a few months.

“This looks like a pretty hefty raise and once we see the numbers in June I’d be a lot more comfortable discussing this,” she said.

Even then, Councilwoman Jewel Edson may oppose the pay hike.

“I’m really not interested in supporting this,” she said. “I didn’t run for council for the money. I ran for council because I’m passionate about my community and just want to contribute. I don’t want to take away.”

Zito offered a different perspective, saying any pay hike being considered must be “managed and equitable and appropriate.”

“Because the first part of the last 10 years was so problematic … for five years we didn’t even give staff raises … I would have a difficult time stomaching giving the council a 50 percent raise,” he said. “However, having said that, raises do happen. It is a way to facilitate additional people participating in the council so I would be willing to look at something.”

Zito found the average compounded compensation increase for miscellaneous employees over the past 10 years was about 15 percent. Using that number, a similar raise for council members would be approximately $820 a month.

If the fully allowed amount is approved and then implemented after the November election, the pay hike will cost the city $23,200 for the next fiscal year.

State law requires council members to take a salary. Historically some have donated it to local charities.

In addition to bimonthly regular council meetings, there are more than two dozen regional, standing and ad hoc committees that require representation.