Brevard County Commissioners vote over public objections to give themselves a 3.37% pay hike
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Brevard County Commissioners, ignoring the voices of critics and fiscal conservatives, voted on Tuesday to give themselves a pay raise, hiking their salaries from $58,145 to $60,272.98, starting in January.
By a vote of three to one, with commissioner John Tobia's voting against the raise, the Commission agreed to award themselves, as well as new incoming commissioners, a pay increase of 3.37%. The proposal increases their allocation from the county budget by $16,300.
“I don’t think it is outrageous or ridiculous to contemplate and receive a 3% increase on a $58,000 salary,” Commission Vice Chair Curt Smith said. “That is slightly more than half what the state recommends for a county of this size.”
It was Smith who initially made the proposal to increase commissions' pay in August, along with his idea to increase term limits for those serving on the commission.
Unlike the term limits measure, which required unanimous support from all commissioners because it required a charter amendment, the pay increase decision needed only a simple majority.
More: Curt Smith wants Brevard County commissioners to be able to serve three terms
But the term limit debate overshadowed any discussion or raises, and the issue was overlooked for weeks. Smith brought back the proposal earlier this month, and the commission approved a public hearing to move it forward to the meeting Tuesday.
According to language in the charter, commissioners may vote to increase their salaries on the even- numbered years to be applied for the next two years. The increases, however, are constrained, either by the average percent increase in the salaries that county employees receive every fiscal year, or by the change in the consumer price index, whichever is less.
For the budget year that just ended, staff received a 3.37% increase while the CPI was about 4.7%, so, under rule, commissioners are eligible for a 3.37% increase as well.
Public comment for the pay rise at Tuesday’s meeting was largely silent unlike the prior meeting when it was reintroduced.
More: Brevard County commissioners begin process for giving themselves a raise
At that time, Nathan Slusher, chair of the Libertarian Party of Brevard County, and a former candidate for the Titusville City Council, publicly declared his opposition.
“If anyone is given the opportunity to set a salary, it just leads to problems,” he said.
Slusher’s view is that commissioners’ pay be set to the average income of those they represent.
A harsher rebuke came from former Clerk of Courts and former commissioner Scott Ellis, who railed against the salary when compared to the hours required for the job.
“Why do they deserve a raise?” Ellis said after the meeting. “They don’t work enough to justify what they are paid. Look at part-time salaries with the cities' elected officials.”
“The $50,000 salary is reasonable for full time,” Elis added. “It is absurd for part time. Plus, they get the insurance. Too many people get elected to office and think their IQ jumped 30 points, and they are the second coming of General Patton.”
The commission provide a couple of justifications for increasing salaries. The first — it is more expensive to be alive now compared to before.
“Quite frankly, to be embarrassed to receive a 3% increase after 30 years of a fixed salary, is nothing to be embarrassed about,” Smith said. “Everybody sees inflation go through the roof, certainly in the last 30 years, I have no clue, but I am sure it has gone up a lot.”
More: Candidate spending per vote varied significantly for Brevard Commission, School Board races
Commission Chair Kristine Zonka used that point to directly respond to Ellis.
“In 1993, the commission salary $47,857,” she said. “Adjusted for inflation, that value today is $88,130. So while one commissioner from that time or that era could brag about how this is the only job he had to do, he could quit his private sector job. Well, yes, you made the equivalent of an $88,000 job.”
The second — the increase is small.
“This is about $25 per week, 60 cents an hour,” Commissioner Rita Pritchett said. “All the minimum wages are going up a $1. We have done really well with county staff. Over the last 6-8 years, we have been very consistent trying to get county staff’s income up.”
The third — it can encourage more highly qualified candidates to campaign to be a future commissioner.
“As commissioner Smith said, we are about half of what other commissions make in the state,” she said. “That is fine, but it kind of forces us to have other income because of what we do in life.”
“Guys, you get what you pay for,” Pritchett added. “I mean you run the county. You have to have the people with the abilities to do this. There is a cost involved.”
Ralph Chapoco is government and politics watchdog reporter. You can reach Chapoco at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @rchapoco.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard County Commissioners vote to give themselves a 3.37% pay hike