CLEARWATER — For the first time in two decades, the City Council has voted to increase the salaries for the elected officials of Tampa Bay’s third largest city, an effort to attract more diversity to an office that has largely been held by retirees or the independently wealthy with flexibility to do the job for low pay.
Beginning with the next election on March 19, council members would be paid $45,000 and the mayor $49,000, a raise of 63% and 48% respectively with annual cost of living adjustments. The council voted 3-2 on Thursday to pass the ordinance, with council members Kathleen Beckman and Mark Bunker voting no. They are the only officials who have to face voters for reelection in March.
Although the ordinance will require a second vote in August, the topic has already been well debated since it was first raised by council member Lina Teixeira in February as a way to accommodate younger candidates raising families or people building their careers to run for office. Although Teixeira initially proposed salaries of $60,000 to $70,000 to set a more livable wage, she said the initial raise is a start.
“Most importantly it sent a message,” Teixeira said in an interview on Friday. “I don’t want the council to be an elitist group. It needs to be accessible for more citizens and I’m hoping with this first big step, that this is going to be continued.”
In March, the council agreed to punt the issue to the Charter Review Committee, an 11-member citizen committee that convened this year to review proposed changes to city government.
The committee, which provides nonbinding recommendations to the council, agreed the elected officials should be paid more than the previous $27,492 for council members and $32,990 for mayor.
Although the city manager runs the day-to-day operations of government, the job of the council can be full time between sit-downs with constituents, council meetings and work sessions in afternoons and evenings, and research looking into issues.
The committee looked at tying salaries to a percentage of the area median income of $56,000. But they decided against it so the council salaries would not fluctuate so drastically if the area median income increased significantly year to year.
At their May 10 meeting, the committee unanimously recommended $41,000 for council members and $49,000 for mayor. Charter review committee member Karen Cunningham worried about the optics of bumping the mayor’s salary all the way to $50,000.
Members also examined salaries of other cities. St. Petersburg, a city with little over double the population, for example, pays its council members $56,016.
“People don’t throw their hat into the ring because the job doesn’t pay enough and they have to work full time,” committee member Mike Riordon said at the May 10 meeting.
“For a lot of people, this is a very small amount of money. But there’s a lot of good candidates who are making the median income or even below the median income that this would be an opportunity for them to run for council, and if they win, maintain their standard of living for their four years or eight years if they get reelected.”
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When the issue returned to the council in June for discussion, Teixeira proposed bringing the council salaries to $45,000 to keep the difference with the mayor’s salary the same that it is today.
During the June discussion, Bunker said he was not comfortable giving himself a raise while residents are struggling with inflation and cost of rents. Beckman said she didn’t support a salary increase without also tying it to an analysis of whether to change the council’s at-large seats to districts to increase diversity.
But Teixeira said Friday that it was time to act on an issue that has been talked about for decades. She said it could be used against her when she is up for reelection in 2026, but Teixeira said being able to foster change will have been worth it.
While Beckman and Bunker face the ballot box in March, council member David Allbritton will be term limited out of office in 2026. Mayor Brian Aungst Sr. has said he will not run after his one year appointment is up in March.
“If this costs me the election, so what, I accomplished something,” Teixeira said.