DADE CITY — The way Scott Black sees it, serving as a city commissioner is a "labor of love" and the job shouldn't be about the monthly paycheck.
But Commissioner Eunice Penix believes the city needs to be on equal footing with other communities that pay elected officials more respectable salaries. Zephyrhills, for instance, pays its council members $500 a month.
Commissioner Jim Shive has watched the subject of commission pay get swatted about for some three decades, with no one having the temerity to put it to a vote. So Shive made a motion at Tuesday's City Commission meeting to accept an ordinance that would triple each commissioner's monthly pay from $100 to $300, and increase the mayor's salary from $150 to $450 a month.
Penix, who put the pay issue on the table at the last meeting, seconded the motion, which passed 4-1. Black voted against it.
A public hearing and final vote on the measure will take place Jan. 8.
Commissioners agreed the new pay scale will not take effect until the next budget year, which begins Oct. 1, 2013. The higher salaries would cost the city an additional $13,200 a year.
Black suggested putting off any further discussion and a vote on the ordinance until budget talks start up again in late spring and into the summer, which Commissioner Bill Dennis agreed was a good idea. Still, Dennis voted with the majority to move forward with the ordinance now.
Mayor Camille Hernandez, who called for firm belt-tightening measures during discussions for the current budget, agreed with the majority. Hernandez said she donates her pay to St. Rita Catholic Church and will continue to do so while in office.
"It's not about me," she said, referring to the salary increase. "It's about the position."
Penix and Shive agreed.
"In fairness to the position, it's time to address it and get in line with the Florida League of Cities," said Shive.
Black noted that not all cities or communities abide by a set standard when it comes to compensating their elected leaders.
"There is no rhyme or reason to it," said Black, who has served on the commission since 1990. "I've seen some cities pay a ceremonial $1 a year."
Black said his biggest concern is giving the appearance that commissioners are insensitive to the tough economic condition the city — and the country — is dealing with.
"If we're going to have a true, sincere conversation about this, we ought to do it with budget discussions," said Black.
Penix pointed out that commissioners haven't seen a pay raise since long before she joined the commission in 1993. Until 2007, the only way elected officials could get a raise was with approval by voters.
"People see us as a nice community," said Penix. "We should be on the same level as others, and we're not."
In other business, commissioners voted to give city employees a paid day off on Christmas Eve, in light of the fact they didn't get a pay raise this year. The cost of providing that day off, including holiday pay for police and other essential workers, is about $4,440.