Although not considered a “full-time” job, the weekly duties fulfilled by Turlock’s elected officials often require many hours not only for public meetings and events, but also representing the City on other various local commissions and governmental agencies.
With Turlock’s substantial growth over the past decade, the roles and expectations of the City’s Mayor and Council members have also vastly expanded, often requiring 20 hours per week in obligations.
In addition to being able to receive medical benefits voluntarily, citizens serving on the Turlock City Council receive a stipend of $500 per month – an amount that has remained unchanged since 1999, despite an annual 5 percent increase allowed by state law.
On Tuesday, City staff presented a report to the City Council concerning the allowable increases for an elected official’s monthly compensation based on a city’s population, recommending that the City adopt such changes to remain fair and adequate compared to the amounts provided by other California cities.
According to Maryn Pitt, assistant to the city manager for Economic Development and Housing, should the Council apply the allowable increases, the salary amount could be legally raised to $994.50 per month, in addition to a variety of health and welfare benefits offered to other City employees. In 2010, the Council voted to eliminate their previous health care benefits provided by the City, and instead become only eligible for such assistance on an individual voluntary basis.
With the City Council being scheduled to begin discussions on the General Fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year and a potential citywide transportation tax during the same meeting, Councilmember Amy Bublak said that the Council currently has too many uncertainties lying ahead to make any decisions related to their own pay.
“While it’s a nice gesture, we need to wait until we have a solidified budget,” said Bublak. “Especially since we have asked citizens for increased water fees, and are now asking for funds for Turlock’s roadways. To increase our own pay, it might be perceived wrong.”
Agreeing that prioritizing Council discussions on the upcoming budget and other imminent economic decisions is imperative, Mayor John Lazar also brought attention to the qualified citizens of Turlock who, although interested in running for Council, could possibly be deterred from seeking election due to financial concerns caused by the substantial amount of time required for Council meetings and related commitments – another primary concern of Pitt and City staff.
“As both a matter of fairness and access to elected office by those other than the independently wealthy or those who otherwise have secure income, it is important that the compensation structure for the Mayor and Council provides some reasonable amount of benefit so that it encourages quality candidates to serve and not just those who have the ability to take off from their jobs or employments pursuits for large chunks of time such as wealthy individuals and retirees,” said Pitt in her report to the City Council. “While these types of individuals can serve the city well, there is no reason to effectively limit the ability to serve to just people in a comfortable enough financial position to do so.”
Also sitting as the city’s Public Financing Authority, Turlock City Council members are appointed to represent Turlock on a variety of regional boards such as the Local Agency Formation Commission, the Stanislaus Council of Governments and other joint powers authorities dealing with surface water, solid waste and groundwater. In addition to holding mid-week office hours at City Hall, both the Mayor and Vice Mayor regularly attend extra meetings with groups and constituents while also sitting on the Stanislaus Business Alliance Board, the Stanislaus Emergency Disaster Council, and several other governance boards – all without additional pay.
“Overall, compensation is one of several significant factors in encouraging qualified candidates for the Mayor and Council positions,” said Pitt. “Turlock has grown substantially since this issue was previously addressed…After a survey and review of cities of comparable size, staff believe the salary and benefits should be adequate and fair for current members of the City Council given overall economic conditions, but also so that the City will continue to attract qualified persons to represent its citizens.”
Despite the state allowing an increase and the City staff recommendations, the City Council agreed on Tuesday to hold off on making increases to their monthly compensation until other more pressing economic decisions are finalized.
“It definitely will warrant a discussion,” said Lazar, suggesting the Council members consider the matter for future councils. “It doesn’t hurt to have the Council consider what they get or even consider foregoing pay altogether. I’d at least like to receive some input from the community about it.”
Supporting Lazar’s request for community feedback, the Council decided to form a Citizen’s Advisory Committee to work alongside Council members over the coming weeks. Together, the two groups will evaluate the possible changes to Council compensation rates, before bringing a proposal back for consideration.
The next City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on May 27 at City Hall, located at 156 S. Broadway.