Gainesville city commissioners will soon receive a raise nearly double their current salary, despite opposition from a small group of frequent critics.
In the first of two votes, city officials voted 4-1 on Thursday to approve among themselves a large pay raise that will raise their salaries from $37,000 to around $71,000 in October 2023. The mayor, who wins more for greater responsibilities, would also see an increase of approximately $40,000, from $47,200 to $88,700.
“The city … and the county commission are both listed as part-time jobs, but in reality they are not,” Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said. “As the commission prepares to move to more subcommittees … the workload will increase. Our workload is no less than that of county commissioners.
Commissioner Desmond Duncan-Walker, the only dissenting vote on Thursday despite his earlier support for the initiative. Commissioners Harvey Ward, who had previously voted against the decision, and Reina Scott were absent.
Duncan-Walker has called for the matter to be deferred until a new commission is sworn in in January, although the new body will vote on its own salary. Currently, three commissioners are leaving and would not be affected by the change.
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Commissioners in favor of the proposal pointed to a state formula that determines the salaries of Alachua County commissioners, who receive about $89,700 a year. Those pushing for higher wages say they hope the change will attract more qualified candidates to run for office in future, though that sentiment was dismissed by at least one citizen.
“I think that’s totally flawed reasoning,” said Gainesville resident Jo Beaty. “You had a lot of very qualified applicants with good backgrounds who were willing to do public service, not a job, and serve the public for what you’re being paid now.”
Resident Debbie Martinez argued that officials should delay increases because it’s not an urgent issue.
“We have a new commission starting next month,” she said. “We’re not in the middle of a pandemic where we have to do this thing, like a vaccine or something. It wouldn’t kill anyone to wait for the new commission to come into effect.
Other citizens argued that the commission increases were unjustified, citing much larger cities like Jacksonville, where commissioners are paid less.
Current salaries for city commissioners approach the poverty line (for a family of four) of $33,000, according to the US Census Bureau. In the short term, salaries will automatically be increased to nearly $40,400 and the mayor will see an increase to $51,400, by order of January 9, 2023.
In 2019, the City Charter Review Commissioner floated the idea of raising the pay of Gainesville Commissioners to a state formula similar to the county commission. The plan could have been voted on for voters to decide, but the commission already has the power to do so.
Still, some residents have argued that by not allowing citizens to vote on the issue, it signals suspicious motives on the part of commissioners.
“If you’re going to do something as outrageous as wanting to double your salary, take it to voters,” Martinez said.
Beaty added that as a result of the pay hike, the commissioner would earn more than the median family income in Gainesville, which was $38,028 in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.
But the commissioners, who have lobbied for higher salaries for thousands of staff, argued that elected leaders earned one of the lowest salaries in the city while having one of the greatest responsibilities.
“I have advocated for salary increases for the lowest organization down to our founding officers, and now, here at last, I would like to offer what I believe is just compensation for those who occupy this seat after me. “, Commissioner David said. Arreola. “I hope that’s fair enough.”