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Front Page » Opinion » $90,000 county commission raise would be a gift to us all

$90,000 county commission raise would be a gift to us all

Written by on December 15, 2015
$90,000 county commission raise would be a gift to us all

What could be a better Christmas gift for the people of Miami-Dade than increasing our county commissioners’ pay 16 times over?

That’s right – it would be a gift to the people, not the commissioners. And, no, this is no joke – it’s dead serious.

It’s not that commissioners are so great that they merit big rewards. Some do well, some not so well. Their collective report card would rate a charitable C, with a note that work is slowly improving.

That’s no rave review – it certainly wouldn’t support multiplying pay by 16.

But remember, a pay hike is a gift to taxpayers, not commissioners. Those taxpayers would be far better served if we paid commissioners at least 16 times what they now get.

Miami-Dade County spends nearly $7 billion yearly to serve more than 2.6 million of us. Yet we pay commissioners the same $6,000 a year part-time salary that was set in 1957 for what has become a full-time job of governing a vastly larger metropolis.

In fact, we’re darn lucky to have the quality of commission we have for a total for all 13 of $78,000. To do their jobs right takes more than 40 hours a week. Just reading and analyzing legislation and reports that they vote on could take longer. No wonder commissioners sometimes miss key points.

By vastly underpaying, we limit those who can hold the post to four groups: the well-to-do, those who get paid for no-show jobs elsewhere, those with real outside jobs who can’t pay full attention to county duties, and those who leverage elected roles to pocket a very nice outside living with no other job at all.

That’s not the best grouping from which to pluck candidates. It excludes professionals and average citizens who’d like to serve the community but couldn’t exist in honest service for $6,000 a year. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to us.

Low pay also means that commissioners often can’t pay enough attention:

•After voting to spend $3 billion including interest to build a stadium for the Marlins and handing the team all the income, some commissioners said they had no idea what was going on.

•Because for years commissioners paid no attention to sewer and water problems, they’ve stuck us with spending more than $13 billion just to get back to where we could have been then.

•The county paid little heed to a vast transportation gap until a flood of complains got commissioners to ask why nobody had been paying attention – when they were the ones who should have been acting.

Averting any of these fiascos would have repaid many times over a pay hike to get full-time commissioners with full attention. Yet voters have rejected a raise over and over, making a bad situation worse.

It’s not that Miami-Dade pays commissioners on par with other counties. Florida law governs what the other 66 pay, based on population with annual raises built in. The biggest counties pay $95,888 this year. We’re the only county with the right to set our own pay scale – which as the county with 13.4% of the state’s people should be highest.

Yet we’re lowest. We pay less than one-fourth of what the smallest county, Liberty, pays commissioners. Liberty’s population of 8,365 is three tenths of one percent of ours, yet Liberty pays commissioners $24,719, fully 263% of what it paid three decades ago. We still pay the same $6,000.

Next door, Broward pays $95,888, 234% of the $40,918 that commissioners got 30 years ago. Ours still get $6,000.

Every single Florida county pays commissioners more than 200% as much as it did in 1984-85. We still pay $6,000, unchanged from 1957.

Just last week, in fact, the city of Boca Raton, population 84,392, considered a ballot measure to raise city council salaries from $7,200 to $29,697. Even at $7,200 they get more than our county commissioners.

We’re so pennywise and pound foolish that we’re hurting ourselves. We’re lucky that we have 13 commissioners who try to do the right thing. Heck, at $6,000 we’re lucky that we have 13 who are unindicted. Allocating $7 billion with almost no pay for full-time work would, after all, tempt even the most honest among us.

Still, we’re cheating ourselves out of potential great candidates for office who couldn’t live on $6,000. And we’re cheating those of our present 13 commissioners who have to work another job to survive out of the time that doing their commission job properly requires.

True, being a commissioner is a public service that demands a sacrifice. But everywhere else in Florida, even on city councils, the sacrifice is not anywhere near as great.

Present commissioners won’t ask voters for a raise. They’ve figured ways to get by. The results are worth a grade of C.

If voters seek better than C outcomes in a Class A metropolis, the push for a public vote for a raise needs to come from civic and business groups that realize C is nowhere good enough and don’t want more baseball, water-and-sewer and transportation fiascos.

That campaign for proper pay would make a great Christmas present for Miamians.

3 Responses to $90,000 county commission raise would be a gift to us all

  1. Jose Pepe Cancio

    December 16, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Mr. Lewis, you are 150% right, before I was appointed twice,to the Board of County Commissioner of Miami Dade County in 2002,I was wondering how come this elected official where earning $ 6,000.00 a year, to me this was a joke. In my almost 7 months in the BCC, sometime I made this comments,that maybe still are in record, you people are making $ 2.88 per hours,less than a waiter and they earned tips and I do not want any one in the Board to make any tip. I know that people sometime are against this readjustment, for the money spend in the campaigns to be elected. For many years I have been said that MDC 13 Commissioners need to earned a decent salary to be able to perform.100% in theirs functions without distractions

  2. Leah

    December 17, 2015 at 8:56 am

    I do not disagree with the premise offered in this article. However, I think it is also slightly misleading to simply quote the $6,000 salary figure for County Commissioners. Remember that Commissioners have many of their expenses paid by the county. They are reimbursed for, among many things, transportation. All of these reimbursements add up and I wonder if it might be better to simply name a flat rate to pay commissioners instead of allowing all of these expenses to be paid for by the County. It is worth looking into.

    Also, there is simply no excuse not to read and study legislation. Commissioners hire full time staff.

  3. Skip Van Cel

    December 17, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Absolutely. HOWEVER, and that is a big however. We voted to raise the city of Miami commissioners pay raise, but they still retain their status as part time jobs and they all have the same outside interests that we expected to be relinquished when we voted for the pay raise. The reason you want to raise their pay is to keep them away from the outside interests. That’s got to be written into the contract, that They have no outside interests.
    When it was suggested in the last city of Miami district 5 race to the candidates only one or two of them were willing to commit to change their status from part time to full-time job and they would relenquish outside interests and employment. As a matter-of-fact the current district 5 commissioner stated he wanted to keep his outside interests. Those outside interesting do not benefit the citizens. They benefit developers and all of the cronies the pay money to get these people elected.