Gainesville City Commissioner salaries could nearly double after an initial 4-1 commission vote Thursday.
Commissioners approved an ordinance that would change the calculation of city commissioner salaries to depend on a population-based formula, similar to a state statute that determines county commissioner salaries.
Salaries for city commissioners are currently more than $37,000, with the mayor’s salary estimating more than $47,100, according to city documents. If implemented in January, salaries would increase to more than $71,000 and $88,700, respectively — a 91% salary increase for each commissioner.
Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos, Cynthia Chestnut and David Arreola voted to approve the raise and changes with Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent. Commissioners Reina Saco and Harvey Ward were unable to vote, as they were both absent for the commission meeting.
Despite majority support on commission, residents spoke out against the vote to raise commissioner salaries.
Jenn Powell, an organizer for CWA 3170, a union of city employees, said she’s afraid passing it now will cause concern for the city, its rank and file employees and will prove detrimental to morale, retention and recruitment moving forward.
She’s not against an increase for commissioner wages, Poweel said, but asked the commission to consider raising salaries for city employees amid inflation instead.
Of full-time CWA employees, she said, 233 make less than $40,000 a year and 137 are living at or just above the poverty line depending on their familial situation.
“We have been told there's no money for increases, and if we want to see any wage increases, we must find the money ourselves,” Powell said.
She referenced a survey the chapter conducted where 77% of employees who participated expressed concern over wages not keeping up with inflation — exacerbating already low employee morale and contributing to the city’s employee retention problem, she said.
Of employees who participated in the survey, 71% said they’re actively looking for work elsewhere.
“I ask the commission to please think of the workers who often seem to be overlooked and taken for granted,” Powell said.
The other commissioners deemed an increase in commissioner salary necessary to match their workload and create equitable opportunities for others to seek city positions.
Given current commissioner salaries, Hayes-Santos said, commissioners’ homebuying options are limited in the districts they must live in to represent.
“In District 2, there are no homes for sale that someone on a commissioner’s salary could buy and afford,” he said. “In District 4, there’s only one home, and in District 2, there are only five homes even after these changes are made that could be afforded in those districts.”
Chestnut pointed to cities Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Port St. Lucie that currently use the state formula used by county commissioners to determine their salaries.
“The public expects and requires commissioners to set policy, not staff,” she said. “Our workload is no less than county commissioners.”
City and county commission positions are both listed as part-time jobs, but the workload exceeds part time, Chestnut said.
Duncan-Walker agreed despite voting in dissent.
“Contrary to how it is listed, it is not part-time,” she said. “It is full-time, it is overtime, it is all day, it is all night, it is all consuming.”
The salary increase would encourage women to seek positions in city government, as it would help accommodate women supporting children, elderly or their spouses, Chestnut and Duncan-Walker said.
“But I have to make a choice tonight, and I have an opportunity to prioritize something else,” Duncan-Walker said. “I’m genuinely concerned about the people that work here; I’m genuinely concerned about the people that live in this city.”
Residents applauded Duncan-Walker’s comments before the commission held the first vote to approve the salary increase.
Echoing other residents in opposition, 60-year-old Wilbur Holloway said the commission didn’t account for the pay increase’s fiscal impact despite its approval of the city budget last month.
“We can't even produce basic reports for the state, which is just a normal function of government,” he said.
Based upon the proposed change from the fiscal year 2021-2022, the fiscal impact would be approximately $290,000 - $403,000 per year, according to city documents.
Debra “Debbie” Martinez, a 67-year-old Gainesville resident who spoke during public comment, said the commission’s methods of basing city commissioner salaries on county commissioner salaries is like comparing apples to oranges.
“Your city commission pay is already in line with city commission pay,” she said.
Martinez also questioned why voters couldn’t decide on the matter directly on the recent midterm election ballot.
“If you’re going to do something as outrageous as wanting to double your salary, put it out to the voters,” Martinez said to the commission.
The ordinance will return for a second and final vote at the Dec. 15 commission meeting. If passed, the change will take effect in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2023.
Contact Mickenzie Hannon at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.
Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.