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The mayor's pay

The job of St. Petersburg mayor carries with it a great deal of responsibility. The mayor oversees the everyday operations of the city, with its 250,000 residents, more than 3,000 employees and nearly $500-million budget. Yet the pay _ $100,000 a year _ hasn't changed since 1993, when the city turned to the strong-mayor form of government.

Mayor Rick Baker has asked the City Council to take a small step toward making the compensation match the job. He believes the mayor should get the same annual salary increase as other city employees, which is 3 percent this year.

That should only be the starting point for council members as they try to match the compensation to the job. A $3,000 increase would still leave the mayor's salary well below that in comparable cities, according to a study by city Internal Service Director Andy Houston. Tampa and Orlando both have strong mayors and pay them, respectively, $135,000 and $138,000. Those mayors also have a pension benefit, while the St. Petersburg mayor has none (he deserves one).

The process of setting the salary of elected officials is more arbitrary than in the private marketplace, and open to political demagoguery. But could anyone make a reasonable argument that $130,000 is too much to pay St. Petersburg's chief executive? Currently, every one of Baker's top assistants is paid more than the boss.

Complicating the decision is the council's interest in giving itself a raise, as well. Council members are paid $24,758 a year and would like to increase that amount and add a pension benefit and monthly expense allowance. Unlike the mayor, they already get the same yearly increase as other employees.

Council members are part-time policymakers, but if they believe their pay has fallen behind, they should make their case to city residents. However, they should separate the two issues.

It is in every St. Petersburg resident's interest to attract the best and brightest candidates for mayor. That person's successful management of a large staff and complex issues will have a direct impact on the city's financial stability and quality of life. It is more than a full-time job and should fairly compensate a highly qualified person holding it.

Baker has not asked for a major adjustment of his salary, saying it is not the right time because of the nation's economic downturn. His reluctance is understandable.

But the amount of money involved is not great enough to have any real impact on the city budget. If the council continues to put off a determination of what is fair compensation for the mayor, it will be doing the city a disservice.

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