SAFETY HARBOR — At a time when many cities are cutting jobs and services, Safety Harbor's elected officials are talking, a bit squeamishly perhaps, about giving themselves a raise.
It has been 22 years since commissioners' salaries were augmented (except in 2005 when they gave themselves an extra $100 per month stipend). And their base pay — $6,000 for the mayor and $4,800 for commissioners — is among the lowest when compared with Pinellas County cities of similar size.
Safety Harbor's mayor and city commissioners also receive a $3,000 a year expense allowance. It's already been determined that their allowances will increase by $250 next year.
No action was taken on a possible increase to the base pay, but it will be revisited at a later date.
But some commissioners aren't comfortable with the timing of the pay raise discussion.
"I have mixed emotions,'' said City Commissioner Joe Ayoub. "We need to attract good people to serve our community, but at the same time, I'm concerned about raising salaries while we're trying to trim the budget.''
Mayor Andy Steingold agreed.
"Absolutely not, this is not timely,'' he said.
But he added that it's absurd to have gone 22 years without previously addressing this issue.
"It would be good to understand where we stand in comparison to our surrounding communities,'' Steingold said. "We're just doing a head count. There may not be any action on pay increases for the next two and a half years.''
He said residents have come forward during City Commission meetings and suggested that one way to attract quality candidates is to increase salaries.
Commissioner Nina Bandoni said she was "very surprised'' to see the item on the agenda.
"I didn't run for office for the money,'' she said. "I ran to be a part of the community and help guide the community.''
She said she assumed her salary and allowance would cover the events she is expected to attend, but it often doesn't because the average ticket price for a gala is $100. She must pony up another $100 if her husband accompanies her.
Like Ayoub, she said she would hate to see gifted leaders avoid running for office because of financial difficulties.
But like other members of the commission, "I am concerned about the timing of this because we have cut the budget significantly and funding to organizations,'' she said.
Commissioner Nadine Nickeson said she's "fine with the compensation that we have.''
"I think what we have now is perhaps a little low, but I certainly didn't take the job for the money,'' she said. "If we do get a raise, I would be donating it to the library.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.