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