TAMPA — The vote was unexpected and close. But Tampa City Council members decided against giving themselves a 42 percent raise Thursday.
The vote came at the end of a council workshop, when most of the anticipated items concerning the city’s volunteer police oversight board and potential changes to the city’s charter had been continued to a later date.
Proposed by Mayor Jane Castor in August, a vote on the raise wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, council member Orlando Gudes raised the issue at the end of the meeting after most of the audience had left.
The 4-3 vote came after Gudes pushed for a vote. He voted for the raise, which would bring council salaries to nearly $74, 000 from $52,060. So did Lynn Hurtak and Bill Carlson.
Hurtak said council members work hard and the job makes it difficult to hold outside employment. She said she has had to largely shut down her consulting business because of the demands on her time that council requires.
“We’re worth it,” she said. “We as a body are worth the time that we put in here.”
But Charlie Miranda, Joseph Citro, Guido Maniscalco and Luis Viera voted no.
Maniscalco, who had spoken positively about a potential raise at an August meeting, said he believes council members should work for the public good, not personal benefit. He said he wanted to become an elected official to help people, he said.
On Thursday, he became the crucial swing vote.
“It was never about the money,” Maniscalco said. “Until this came up, I appreciate the sentiment and everything, but I’m not here for that.”
During the discussion, Carlson, who said council salaries needed to be raised to attract good candidates, suggested that they should make half of the mayor’s salary, which is $175,656. That idea, which would have paid council members an even higher salary of nearly $88,000 wasn’t part of the final vote.
Miranda, who led the effort against the pay hike, said he didn’t think everyday Tampa residents struggling to keep up with inflation were likely to get such a one-time windfall — or appreciate their local elected officials giving themselves one. Subsequent cost-of-living increases would only add further increases, he said.
Currently, council members make slightly less than their counterparts in St. Petersburg ($54,385) and significantly less than Orlando ($68,546). Those two cities are the next two largest cities in Florida after Tampa, the state’s third most-populous city.
When the raises were first proposed by Castor staffers at the mayor’s Aug. 4 budget presentation, it took council members by surprise. A request by former council member John Dingfelder to analyze council pay had happened nearly a year before. And Dingfelder, who resigned in March, was no longer on the council. Neither Castor nor her staff had consulted council members about the raises before she unveiled it, council members said.
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Originally, the 41.6 percent raise would have kicked in on Oct. 1, when the budget takes effect. But some council members asked that it be moved to an account that would require a separate vote, said Adam Smith, Castor’s spokesperson. Smith declined to name the council members who asked that the raise not be automatic.
With all seven council members up for reelection early next year, a massive increase in their city salary could have been seen as a risky action. Viera and Citro had both said they preferred any raises to take place in May, after the elections. Gudes, though, repeatedly said he thought City Council should move quickly put the issue “to bed.”
But passions on either side of the issue — which Carlson accused of being stirred up by “the media” — ended up squashing the raises, at least for now. The money remains in the city’s budget.
During a roll call vote, Citro answered: “Heck, no!”