If you were to judge by their public comments, every Safety Harbor city commissioner thinks that now is not a good time to talk about giving themselves a raise. Yet on Monday night, the idea somehow made it onto a City Commission meeting agenda for discussion. Mysterious.
Yes, it is true that Safety Harbor officials appear to be a little underpaid when their salary is compared with those in cities of similar size.
Yes, it appears to be a fact that Safety Harbor officials haven't had an increase in their base pay in 22 years.
But it is also possible that there has never been a worse time in all those 22 years to talk about raising their salaries.
After all, some believe Florida is in a recession. Safety Harbor residents are struggling to pay for gas and groceries. Shops have closed downtown. And there have been cuts in the operating budgets of most city government departments in response to reduced tax revenues.
In Safety Harbor, the mayor gets $6,000 and commissioners make $4,800. Each commissioner also gets an annual $3,000 expense allowance.
Compare that base salary to Oldsmar, where the mayor makes $10,800 and council members $8,400; Seminole, where the mayor gets $9,300 and council members $5,562; and Gulfport, where the mayor's salary is $9,600 and council members get $7,200.
We are not normally unsympathetic to the need for elected officials to get paid something to help compensate for the extra costs they incur as public officials. However, Safety Harbor commissioners come off as politically tone deaf by even letting the item make it onto an agenda.
Safety Harbor is a wealthier community than the other cities mentioned here and probably could afford to pay its hard-working elected officials a little more. In fact, commissioners say some residents have pointed out that a higher salary might attract better candidates for office.
When Safety Harbor decided to start paying its elected officials, the salary was not designed to be a living wage. Neither was it intended to compensate them for the hours they spend on the job. Instead, it was supposed to prevent them from losing ground financially because of their service on the City Commission. Commissioners incur extra costs for transportation, clothing and child care, and often are expected to contribute to local causes, pay registration fees and buy tickets to local events.
Those costs are rising, and commissioners should not be expected to absorb the increases indefinitely. But in the current economic environment, there are alternatives to raising their salaries. Those alternatives include cutting costs by reducing the events they attend, giving up out-of-area travel or choosing one member to represent the group at galas and other local affairs.
On Monday night, the commissioners demurred, deciding to take up the pay raise issue later. It is hoped that will be when their constituents are not so worried about paying the bills or losing their jobs.