Update: Pay Raise for Mayor and Commissioners on August Ballot

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Update: Pay Raise for Mayor and Commissioners on August Ballot:

Voters asked to decide if a 52 year catch-up is warranted

Update August 29, 2018
Miami Beach voters said "no" to the pay raises by a vote of 5,552 to 5,018.

Update August 18, 2018
Thank you to several of our readers who asked questions and passed along additional info regarding the ballot item to increase the salary of the Mayor and Commissioners. We now have a fuller picture of what that entails when you include expenses and the potential for retirement benefits. 
Currently, the Mayor receives an annual salary of $10,000 but the Mayor also receives W-2 compensation in the form of an expense stipend ($2,000 per month) and a car allowance of $6,000 per year for a total of $40,00 annually. The reason those expense numbers are important is because retirement benefits are calculated (just like taxes) on the total compensation package. If a Mayor serves for a minimum of five years, he or she is currently entitled to receive a monthly retirement benefit of $666.67 per month for life, starting at age 62.
If approved, the Mayor’s annual salary would increase to $75,636. The expense stipend and car allowance would remain the same. New total annual pay number: $105,636 which translates to $1,760.60 per month in retirement benefits starting at age 62, provided a Mayor served for a minimum of five years.
Commissioners currently receive an annual salary of $6,000 with an additional $33,000 in compensation ($2,250 a month in expenses and $6,000 car allowance) for total annual pay of $39,000. Current monthly pension at age 62 for commissioners who serve a minimum of five years is $650.
If approved, the annual salary for Commissioners would increase to $45,381 plus the $39,000 in expenses and car allowance for total compensation of $78,381 annually. That would provide a monthly pension of $1,306.35 at age 62 for Commissioners who serve a minimum of five years.
Note: If a Mayor or Commissioner serve more than five years, the monthly pension number increases due to the increase in the multiplier number in the formula. Commissioners in Miami Beach have lifetime term limits of two four-year terms, not including time served as a result of having filled a vacancy so long as that time doesn’t exceed 50 percent of the filled term. The lifetime term limit for the Mayor is three two-year terms. 
Under the proposal, a Commissioner who served two terms, would be eligible for a monthly pension of $2,090.16. A Mayor would have to serve the maximum three two-year terms to be eligible for a pension. In that case, the monthly pension number would be $2,112.72. [Not included in this calculation is the proposed increase for an annual increase based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) not to exceed 3%.]
Mayors and Commissioners are also eligible to participate in the City’s health insurance program and receive one Citywide parking permit for life.
Those in favor of the pay raise say there hasn't been one for 52 years and it is needed to increase the pool of candidates who can afford to serve as Mayor and Commissioners.

Original story, August 11, 2018

The City’s Mayor and Commissioners haven’t had a pay raise in 52 years and now they’re asking voters if a catch-up raise is warranted. Well, some of them are.
In June, four Commissioners voted in favor of adding the item to the August 28th ballot: Ricky Arriola, John Alemán, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, and item sponsor Michael Góngora. Commissioners Mark Samuelian and Micky Steinberg voted no. Mayor Dan Gelber left the meeting early to attend his daughter’s high school graduation but was later quoted by the Miami Herald as saying he opposed the increase.
Currently, Commissioners are paid $6,000 a year with a $2,250 monthly stipend for expenses. The Mayor is paid $10,000 and, after opting out of a $750 increase in his monthly expense stipend in February according to the Herald, Gelber’s monthly expense allowance is $2,000.

Góngora introduced the measure in June saying, “I think I’ve been somewhat vocal since I’ve been on the Commission about the amount of time that we spend doing this job as full-time Commissioners, as many of us are. It takes away time and ability for most to produce income whether we work for ourselves or through other businesses.”
“It’s always a really unpopular thing when you talk about Commission compensation,” he acknowledged, “but I decided to do it because I think it’s the right thing and, at least at the neighborhood association groups and the breakfast clubs and the places that I go, people are always stunned to learn how little the Commission makes and that the compensation has not been raised in 52 years, since 1966 before many of us up here were born.”
The proposal voters are asked to opine on would increase the salaries to a level that reflects the CPI cumulatively since 1966. That comes out to $45,381 annually for Commissioners and $75,636 annually for the Mayor.
The timing of the idea gave Commissioners pause. It was introduced just after Commissioners learned of a budget shortfall that would need to be closed.

Alemán said, “While I think that this is absolutely the right thing to do, because to the extent that we can make it a compensation that’s reasonable that someone, while still not something that someone could live on, then we’ll get more diversity. In the meantime, you increase the talent pool, the size of the talent pool that you’re recruiting from… you can get more diversity and I think that’s all good and a good reason to do this and I support it.”
That said, Alemán added, “I’m worried, though, because of the email that we just got from the City Manager about the budget deficit. Can we wait on this?”
Góngora said he understood her point. “There still is some public sentiment that elected people don’t deserve to be compensated. And it’s really unfortunate because many of us up here, all of us up here, are taking time away from doing other things.” He noted Alemán had given up her career since becoming a Commissioner. 
“It’s hard. For me, I’m an attorney. I could be making a lot more money,” he said. “All I have to sell is time. So all of the meetings that you go to, you make less money. And I’m not asking for people to feel sorry for us. We chose to run for public office. We’re doing this because we love representing the City and it’s exciting work that we’re doing, but I think like the City of Miami and other governments that are moving toward recognizing the time investment of their elected officials and the time it takes away from us being able to earn income for ourselves or our families, that our time is also valuable.”
He also talked about opening up the talent pool for others to run. “I can tell you there’s a number of people I know that don’t run for office because they have to work full-time and their employment wouldn’t allow it, so a lot of times you’re left with people that are fortunate to own their own business, they’re retired or they have some other stream [of income and] they don’t worry about money for whatever reason… I think it would give the City a big benefit” in increasing the pool of people who could run for office. He said it wasn’t the Commission voting to give themselves an increase, it would be the voters making the decision.
Samuelian said, “I absolutely understand the spirit and totally buy into the comments around talent pool… I do think the timing that Commissioner Alemán mentions with the upcoming budget, that fact that we’re in little bit tougher times I think is an important point.” 
“I think it’s fair,” Arriola said. “It’s proper that people get compensated for their time so I’m okay with this and I would actually say so we don’t burden some future Commission 52 years from now, just index this to CPI because that’s the right thing to do" going forward.
Compensation, Arriola said, is a problem at many levels of government, citing members of Congress who sleep in their offices because they can’t afford to live in Washington, DC. “That’s just one [example] but we see this across the board. We just don’t have the guts to face voters and say ‘Do you think we earn enough respect to warrant a halfway decent salary?’ I’m okay to ask the voters. If they don’t want it, fine.”
Samuelian suggested the Charter Review Committee weigh in, but that body only meets every ten years and last met in 2013, though the Mayor could convene the group for this purpose. 
“Having been here [on the Commission] before,” Góngora said, “all the Charter Review Committees always recommend this. They always recommend it and what happens is it gets up here and people are nervous to talk about it. It’s an uncomfortable position to say you deserve to be compensated for your time and money and as elected officials people are nervous that people are going to look at it the wrong way.”
“I just decided to put it on,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do and we’re not doing it. At the end of the day there’s no guarantee that it will pass. We’re putting it out in the voters' hands. They can study it. They can read about it on the website They can make the ultimate determination. For me, I think it’s fair because it’s not our decision. We’re asking voters ‘Do you think we’re worth a raise after 52 years being stuck at the $6,000 salary?’”
Former Commissioner Joy Malakoff spoke about the budget shortfall the City was facing at the time. (It has since been closed to meet the City’s requirement for a balanced budget.) “We’re looking for cuts now in the City operating budget of $6m. Personally, I think it would be great. I think $6,000 is ridiculous. I think the timing of this is off.”
“It’s different when you have a surplus,” she said. “I don’t think it looks right. I’m not saying you’re wrong in thinking you should be paid more, but I think the timing during a time when people might be let go because of budget cuts, it’s just the timing is wrong.”
Góngora responded, “I understand your comment and I did think about that… but there’s never a right time, unfortunately, for this. I think the big gravy years locally are coming to an end. I think we’re going to see more and more that we’re going to be looking for cuts or more ways to bring in revenues so I don’t think what we’re looking for this year as far as the budget is concerned is an anomaly. I think it’s going to be the norm of what the next couple of years are going to look like.”
Samuelian reiterated his opposition. “I understand the spirit. I would echo the comments about timing and I know it’s not reality but somehow I think people are going to conflate the GO Bond and raising taxes.” Putting these on the ballot in the same election cycle with the GO Bond in November “gives me pause,” he said. “I do not believe that’s a legitimate connection but somehow I could see that if folks aren’t following the dialogue closely, those things coming at the same time also doesn’t strike me well, so I’m not going to support this today.”
Because the item could not wait another month when Gelber would have been present for the discussion due to deadlines for the August ballot, Alemán said, “I’m going to vote for it. I don’t want it to die right now. You heard my concern. What I’m worried about is that it will fail because of the time and then that’ll be that… I believe this is the right thing to do overall. I’m just concerned about the timing because of the budget but I also hear you and I think you and Commissioner Arriola are right that there’s never a good time. This never sounds good but the truth is this is the right thing to do.”
Arriola added, “To the extent that this attracts better quality folks to run for office – and I do think It’ll help, it won’t hurt – that’s a good thing.”
Commissioners in Miami Beach have lifetime term limits of two four-year terms, not including time served as a result of having filled a vacancy so long as that time doesn’t exceed 50 percent of the filled term. The lifetime term limit for the Mayor is three two-year terms.

The City’s voter guide is here. Early voting begins Monday.

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