Oldsmar officials wary of pay raise talk
By ED QUIOCO
© St. Petersburg Times,
OLDSMAR -- City Council members might soon have to grapple with the politically sensitive issue of giving themselves a pay raise, thanks to a recommendation from a group of residents.
Along with a number of other proposed changes, the Ordinance Review Committee recently suggested increasing the salaries of Oldsmar's elected leaders by 50 percent. The five-member committee of residents was appointed by council members to review and update the city's ordinances and land development codes.
The proposed pay raise would increase the salary for council members from $4,800 a year to $7,200, and the mayor's salary from $7,200 to $10,800 a year.
"To attract quality people, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and give them the pay to go along with the job," said Loretta Wyandt, the review committee's chairwoman.
The committee felt it was time for council members to get a pay raise because the last time they got one was in 1988, Wyandt said. The city has grown considerably since then.
"We are much bigger now and (council members) have a lot more work to do," Wyandt said. "It's not like it was 10 years ago. If they go through all their stuff and do their homework, they are earning their pay."
Since the proposal is coming from a committee of residents and not the elected officials, Wyandt hopes the public will be more receptive to the suggestion, unlike what happened in St. Petersburg.
The St. Petersburg City Council recently proposed giving its members a pension and increasing salaries and car allowances. Council members abandoned the idea after receiving scores of angry phone calls, letters and e-mails from city residents.
"I know the one in St. Petersburg was controversial, but bear in mind that the pay raise was initiated by them," Wyandt said. "This one is being initiated by the citizens."
Still, some Oldsmar council members are treating the suggestion with caution.
"There are two sides to it," said council member David Tilki. "No. 1, we volunteered to run for office, and I think after we get into office, we realize that it's probably more time-consuming than we ever imagined."
The proposed pay raise is not necessarily a reflection of the current council members and how well they are doing their jobs, Wyandt said.
"I don't think it really matters who is up there," Wyandt said. "We were looking at the positions, not the people."
Since the committee can only make recommendations to council members, it will be up to the council to decide whether to explore further the proposed pay increase.
Although Mayor Jerry Beverland agrees with the proposal, the only way he'll support it is if the voters are given the final say, he said.
"It was the people who voted to put me in office so it has to be the people who give us a raise," Beverland said. "I don't think it's proper for the council to be the only voice in raising their pay. I want the people to make that decision . . . because that's who we work for."
The council briefly discussed whether to raise their salaries at a meeting two years ago when former council member Ed Manny raised the issue. No action was taken on the proposal.
During that meeting, Wyandt spoke in favor of the increase. Former Mayor Jerry Provenzano, who was serving as a council member at the time, promised to vote against it as he has done in the past.
"If you are doing it for the money, you are in the wrong business," Provenzano said Thursday. "I think it's an honor to serve. I would have done it for a dollar a year."
The City Charter calls for the council to appoint a committee to review the ordinances at least once every five years and gives that committee five years to complete the task.
The city's book of ordinances and land development code is 31/2 inches thick and has about 100 chapters.
"It's huge," Wyandt said. "What we are doing is starting at the beginning and taking it a section at a time. When you look at that book, you know it will take a while."
During a council meeting July 17, Wyandt presented to council members a preliminary report from the committee on its suggested changes. At the end of that meeting, council member Marcelo Caruso asked if the council could discuss during its next meeting in August whether council members can purchase health insurance through the city's program.
Wyandt's presentation on the committee's suggested changes was the first of what is likely to be several presentations to the council.
The committee also proposed lowering the maximum fine for some code violations from $500 to $250. Most of the other suggestions were housecleaning items geared more toward updating the city's ordinances and land development codes.
The committee asked City Clerk Lisa Lene to survey other cities in Pinellas County to compare the salaries of other elected officials. The committee discovered that Oldsmar was "at the bottom of the totem pole," when it comes to the salaries of its elected officials, Wyandt said.
The committee is offering pay raises to the council and it is now up to them to decide if they want to continue exploring the issue, Wyandt said.
"If they want to take advantage of it, then fine," Wyandt said. "If not, that just means more money in our coffers."
- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183.
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