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This Week

Our Observation

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The Winter Park City Commission recently voted to increase its own salaries. After 57 years of the same pay rate, each commissioner will enjoy a $7,600 pay hike – from $2,400 to $10,000.

With the work involved in sitting on a city commission, especially one that makes decisions for nearly 30,000 people, it’s understandable that the pay should be higher than a whopping $46 a week. Not only do they have to read tons of complicated material before each meeting, which routinely last for six hours or more, they also make public appearances, meet with constituents and research the projects they feel passionate about for the city. It’s a tough job.

But raising the salary so exponentially during a time of fiscal crisis is not the most popular thing to do. Even Mayor Ken Bradley agreed, voting against the pay increase, saying he could not raise his own salary “in this environment”.

However, it was pointed out during the Winter Park Sept. 27 meeting that city residents voted to allow the Commission to determine their own salaries in March 2010. Whether they envisioned that they would have increased their pay by approximately 316 percent – usual pay increases come in increments of 3-5 percent and that’s considered generous in the corporate world – is unknown.

Although he voted yes in the end, Commissioner Phil Anderson also said he did not think a pay hike was appropriate when city employees’ pay rates were not rising and their benefits were being cut.

While it seems like bad timing, the argument has been made that keeping commissioners’ salaries low also keeps many citizens from running for the Commission. Those who are retired or already wealthy seem to be the only people who could live off of such a low salary.

Winter Park is not the only city dealing with this dilemma. In Portland, Ore., the mayor and one commissioner decided not to take their annual raise – a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase. The increase was for the Commission and city staff. Of course, the big difference between the Portland and Winter Park Commissions is their base salaries. The mayor enjoys a $98,000 salary, according to www.oregonlive.com.

Coral Springs, Fla. will put a 215 percent salary increase for their commissioners up for a referendum in November. The Commission currently makes a $13,000 salary and is asking for $28,000 a year.

Civil servants should be amply compensated for their hard work. After all, it is their time and effort that makes our municipalities function. But a $7,600 hike might be too much, too soon when so many constituents are either taking pay cuts or still searching for a job.