City Council Doubles Its Pay

Written by Estero Bay News

January 28, 2022

Morro Bay’s City Council has voted itself a pay raise, lifting their monthly paychecks to be more in line with other local city council pay.

The Council voted 5-0 on Jan. 11 to enact a recommended pay increase that doubles their monthly stipend, plus adds another $230 to the Mayor’s pay.

Council members have been getting $500 a month, plus benefits paid for by taxpayers and reimbursements for expenses representing the City, since 2002, the last time they voted in a pay increase. 

Additionally, the mayor was getting another $200 a month for the extra work expected of him or her, which was first granted in 1999.

Morro Bay’s City Council persons have always been compensated for their time, since the town’s incorporation in 1964. It should be noted that this pay is a “stipend,” meaning they get that amount no matter how many hours are spent representing the City on various outside boards and commissions, or the number of hours actually worked at the job.

So until last week, all council members were getting $500 a month with the Mayor an additional $200.

When the raise goes into effect, the council will all get $1,000 a month with the Mayor getting an extra $430 a month for a total budget expense of $64,800, up from the previous $32,400.

City Manager Scott Collins said the raises aren’t out of line for councils in SLO County. “When comparing the new Council stipend amount and existing benefits to the cities in SLO County [minus City of SLO which is an outlier],” he told Estero Bay News, “MB would earn a bit less than the average.”

As it’s been nearly two decades since the council last had a pay raise, the Council last summer asked the staff to have the Citizens Finance Advisory Committee (CFAC) take a look at the compensation rates, “as one factor that may limit who is able to dedicate the time to run for local office,” reads a staff report on the issue. “For example, individuals who work full time may find it challenging to run for local office and dedicate significant time to the role in exchange for a nominal monthly stipend.”

City Council is not considered a “full time” job but rather a volunteer position. After all, one must seek the office and stand election to essentially be “hired” by voters. 

Over the years, however, the position has become more and more involved, as council persons also sit on various Countywide boards and commissions, which adds to the time spent on the job, but do not add to the pay.

CFAC looked at the issue last November and asked that further information be provided regarding the fringe benefits, namely health insurance. In December they voted 6-1 to recommend the pay increases, the report said, but recommended no changes to the benefits package.

The City is supposed to review the council’s compensation every 4 years but the Coronavirus Pandemic response delayed it. Now, the pay raise won’t go into effect until after the November 2022 General Election and the next council is sworn in (usually around Dec. 8), as required under the State Government Codes, which governs how Morro Bay’s elected officials are paid. 

And the new rates will stay in effect until at least 2026, the next time the City is slated to look at council compensation.

As an amendment to a City ordinance, the Council will have to vote again on the matter, which will likely appear as a consent agenda item and not be addressed, unless a council member pulls it for discussion. Collins said it would come back at the Jan. 25 meeting, which is after EBN’s deadline.

Also, the law provides that citizens can set council compensation via an election initiative, however, the City Manager said he does not know of any effort to do that currently underway.

Three council members — Jeff Heller, Dawn Addis and Mayor John Headding — will be up for re-election in November. None have yet to announce whether they will seek re-election and the nomination period isn’t until this summer.

However, Addis plans on running for State Assembly in the June Primary Election in a newly-drawn district that includes the coastal cities in Monterey County. If she makes the November run-off election, she may not be able to also run for city council re-election, though the City Clerk has said she was unsure of this and would research it if the situation comes up.

According to the City Municipal Codes, a council member who seeks higher office in mid-term must give up their seat, so the potential vacancy can be voted on at the election. If they do not, they could be made to pay for a special election, if one is called.

The City code was intended for when a council member seeks the Mayor’s job and doesn’t serve out their term. 

It does not specifically address whether someone could run for, let alone be elected, to both State Assembly and City Council at the same time, which is what the city clerk must research. It would seem counterintuitive to think a person could do both jobs.

Also, Councilwoman Jen Ford, who was appointed last year to the seat of the late-Robert Davis after he died just a few months after winning re-election in November 2020, will face voters in the June Primary. 

The winner of that race — assuming she is challenged for it — will serve out Davis’ remaining term and not face election again until 2024’s Presidential Election. If she is unchallenged, the race won’t even appear on the ballot.

November could also have two citizen initiatives on the ballot — one to prohibit RV camping on The Embarcadero and the other to enact a $120 a year parcel tax on all private property in the City, intended to support the maintenance needs of the Harbor Department. 

Petitions for that parcel tax initiative are being gathered now. They have until May to garner some 830 signatures (10%) of registered voters in Morro Bay for it to qualify for the ballot.

The anti-RV camping initiative proponents have already turned in over 1,000 signatures, which the City Clerk and County Elections Office are now working to verify and it seems a lock to make the ballot.

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