County hall’s big pay raise: commissioners need not apply
Written by Michael Lewis on July 12, 2016
As a 9.1% property value rise swells Miami-Dade tax revenue, most county hall employees are in line for 4% cost-of-living pay hikes starting Oct. 1. But one group will be conspicuously absent: county commissioners.
As virtually everyone else gets more, commissioners will get the same $6,000 a year that they’ve been paid since 1957, because voters have time and again refused them raises and the commissioners themselves have stopped seeking one.
Talk about cost of living: a $6,000 salary in 1957 would, with inflation, have the buying power of $51,296 in 2016, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. But we still pay the same $6,000, though the job then was very part time and today it’s full time plus, handling budgets greater than those of many nations.
We pay these commissioners just 36% of Florida’s $8.05 hourly minimum wage as they spending billions of our dollars. How in the world can we expect their full attention without them thinking of how to line their own wallets in the process? It’s just not logical.
The state, not residents, sets commission pay in every county but Miami-Dade – we’re so big that we set our own. Statewide, it’s done by county size – the bigger the county, the higher the pay. Raises come every year.
In Liberty County, Florida’s smallest with 8,365 residents, commissioners last year got $24,719, the state’s lowest rate but up 263% from three decades earlier. Miami-Dade, population 2.7 million, still pays the same $6,000 it always has.
The five biggest counties in the state other than Miami-Dade last year paid commissioners $95,888 each. We paid our collective 13-member county commission $78,000 – far less in total than many aides get individually. How smart is that?
Commissioners themselves are unlikely to ever ask voters for more money by putting a raise on the ballot, which would be the right thing to do. They’d view it as political poison, and all 13 have found their own ways of getting by on $6,000.
And that’s the danger – what populace wants commissioners to find a way to get by while being paid 36% of minimum wage and handling billions of public dollars?
Somehow, some way, commissioners are doing all right for themselves. But how?
If we turn a blind eye to what we create when we pay this way, then we just plain deserve the outcome.
Some will say commissioners don’t deserve anything more. If you believe that and refuse to pay more, we’ll never have commissioners who are worth holding office.
We don’t believe that our commissioners are worthless. Some do fine jobs. But we put them in an untenable position by refusing to increase their pay to a living wage and then holding them to the full time, quality service that the job should demand.
Most of our commissioners will be term-limited out of office in a few years. If we want to upgrade the quality of government – or just be fair to those we elect – we need to have a decent pay level by 2020 to attract quality candidates.
Heaven knows we don’t want a 2020 ballot heavy on candidates who are looking to get ahead on $6,000 plus the nasty hidden perks of public office.
Now is the time for business and civic leaders to unite to put on the ballot a commission pay raise to $100,000 or more. The total cost increase of $1.2 million can be recouped many times over in just a single smarter commission vote.
If you like what the commission is doing now, pay members fairly. If you don’t, pay fairly and attract better candidates. Thrift may be smart, but being cheap is very costly – it costs us all dearly.