Wisdom reveals paying officials more is fairer to everyone
Written by Michael Lewis on June 19, 2018
Credit Miami Beach for wisdom and courage in asking voters to pay the mayor and commission more than the token level set 52 years ago.
We trust that Miami-Dade will show the same wisdom and courage next month when commissioners examine putting their own raise on the fall ballot.
It takes courage because a commission call for a raise can certainly be characterized as self-serving. But in the cases of both Miami Beach and the county, those pay increases are so long overdue as to be vital.
Yes, sitting commissioners would pocket more with higher compensation, but moving compensation from the presently ludicrous up to reasonable levels would also open doors to more and possibly better candidates for office, allowing those who now can’t afford time-consuming public service the chance to serve.
How ludicrous is the pay now? Miami Beach’s commissioners have received $6,000 a year since 1966. County commissioners have received the same $6,000 since 1957. How many other jobs pay the same now as 52 or 61 years ago?
And yes, these are real jobs, with hours spent at public hearings and talking with constituents and – we trust – reading documents and actually thinking about what their communities need and how to meet those needs. The more time spent on the job by a good commissioner, the better the community will be served.
Recognizing the need for equitable payment for many hours of public service, Miami Beach plans to ask voters to raise commission pay to $45,381 in the fall, a figure to be adjusted afterward for inflation of up to 3% a year.
The commission reached that figure by having the city’s finance department adjust the current $6,000 for inflation each year from 1966 to the present, which yields $45,381. Doing the same for the mayor’s $10,000 pay yields $75,636 a year.
The numbers square with state-set pay for county commissioners everywhere except Miami-Dade (more on that in a minute). The other 66 counties must pay based on population, and those numbers in a county of about the same population as the city of Miami Beach just about equal the number Miami Beach commissioners plan to seek.
For example, in Flagler County, which has a few thousand more people than Miami Beach, the state-mandated county commission pay is $53,551. Globally known Miami Beach almost certainly faces more complex problems than a county like Flagler, yet the city now pays only $6,000 for those who act on everything from sea level rise to the impacts of millions of annual visitors. It doesn’t seem either equitable or wise to pay so little. Voters this fall can decide.
Bear in mind, the increase that voters will rule on wouldn’t bar commissioners or the mayor from outside jobs. It’s not meant to be total income but rather fair compensation for hours of public service – no reasonable candidate for these leadership roles would see the money as approaching a full income. But out of fairness, those doing elected service should get something more than a pittance for their time.
That reasoning also applies to getting a county commission pay increase on the fall ballot. A county charter review task force this year recommended increasing the $6,000 that commissioners now get to $99,997, which is what the state requires for commissioners in every other major county. We’re much more populous than the others, so the task force was conservative – that number could have been larger.
Even just adjusting for consumer price rises, the $6,000 paid to county commissioners in 1957 would have been $54,693.04 in May, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, just a hair above what Flagler County commissioners get – and Flagler has only about 4% of Miami-Dade’s population.
The argument to pay Miami Beach commissioners more intensifies at the county level, where people paid $6,000 a year decide on annual spending of $7 billion. If ever there was a recipe for inefficiency, waste or worse, you’ll find it in that ratio of pay to spending. How much time and care can most people be expected to give on what is really more than a full-time job for $6,000?
If we don’t pay commissioners fairly, we certainly will pay in other ways.
To put it in perspective, the state’s scale requires $25,747 pay for each county commissioner in Lafayette County, population 8,621. That’s $2.99 per resident per year.
On the other hand, Miami-Dade, which does not use the state scale, pays $6,000 for each county commissioner in a population of 2,700,794. That’s two-tenths of a cent per person. A raise to $99,997 would cost each resident 3.7 cents per year – a raise of 3.5 cents per commissioner for every resident.
Other than fairness of pay to officeholders is the fairness to taxpayers. Isn’t it worth a dollar or two per year to raise commission pay so many more qualified individuals could afford to seek 13 jobs that can and do affect the direction of your community, so that the 13 winners are paid enough to put in the needed hours and brainpower?
If you want better commissioners, that’s the way to get them.
And if you think the commissioners today are superb, isn’t it worth a dollar or two to pay them fairly for those great jobs?
In Miami Beach and in the county, the suggested raises are an issue of fairness – fair to those who win, and fair to the taxpayers who depend on elected officials to do the homework to do great jobs.
We thank Miami Beach’s commission for recognizing the need for fair pay and trust that county commissioners will follow the lead of their charter review and do the same. Then, it’s up to voters to also do the right thing for officials – and be fair to themselves in the bargain.