A 57-year salary freeze may finally have ended for the Winter Park City Commission, just as city workers are dealing with their own salary freezes. The Commission voted Sept. 27 to raise individual commissioner pay from $2,400 per year to $10,000, citing that the city had long since paid its Commission a competitive salary.
At least one member of the Commission chamber audience agreed, saying it was about time the Commission received a raise.
“Everybody makes more money than our commissioners,” resident Nancy Shutts said, comparing commissioner salaries to other Orlando-area cities.
Shutts pointed to a March 2010 vote by residents that would allow the Commission the freedom to determine its own salary.
“The residents already voted by 59 percent that after next March the commissioners could increase their pay,” Shutts said about the charter amendment. “I would say that they are comfortable with that. I think it makes a statement that we are honoring what the residents have already voted on.”
The salary raise was part of a new set of amendments to the overall budget, which passed 4-1 at the Commission meeting.
But not everyone on the Commission was on board with the pay hike, as Mayor Ken Bradley vocally opposed the raise, saying he couldn’t do it in good conscience while the city was cutting its budget and retirement benefits for employees.
“I’m voting against the budget even though there’s a lot to like because I’m not raising my salary in this environment,” Bradley, the lone budget vote dissenter, said.
Commissioner Phil Anderson, who opposed the raise but later voted to approve the overall budget, said the timing was wrong.
“I absolutely believe that the commissioner pay should be raised, but I also think that this looks bad,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he hoped the Commission would hold off on raising its salary until the city is in better financial times.
“While I agree that this should be done and it should be raised, I think there’s some symmetry in the discussion that when employee pay can be raised, then we can discuss this,” he said.
Former Mayor Joe Terranova spoke out against the salary hike, saying the timing was bad.
“I’m totally opposed to this,” Terranova said. “You’re giving yourself a pay raise when in this budget you refuse to give your workers a pay raise. You reduced the amount of health care for which they’re covered, and in addition to that you reduced the amount of money that would go into the pension fund for employees. It’s unacceptable.”
Commissioner Beth Dillaha pointed out that while city employees had received frequent salary raises over the course of the last 57 years, the Commission had been stuck with pay that was only competitive midway into the last century.
“It’s at the same rate that it’s been since 1953,” Dillaha said, comparing it to temporarily frozen employee salaries. “That’s a bit different.”
Bradley currently earns $3,000 per year as mayor, and commissioners earn $2,400. The salary raise has yet to be divided up. It could be spread evenly among all five members of the Commission, or it could be split to give the mayor more pay. Protracted over a year, the raise will cost the city $50,000, regardless of the split among commissioners.