Council, mayor get salary raises lower than proposed

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Vice Mayor Nancy Smith, Mayor Christian Price and Councilmember Rich Vitiello discuss the salary increase proposals.

After a mathematics challenge, Maricopa city councilmembers voted Tuesday night to give themselves a raise starting in January.

The salary increases amount to a 20% raise for the mayor and a 14% raise for councilmembers. The two members of the current council who will not benefit from the vote were divided on the issue.

Marvin Brown voted in favor of the increase while Julia Gusse was the lone vote against. Both are at the end of their terms.

City Manager Rick Horst had proposed a raise of 28% for council and 52% for mayor. Resident Bryan Ott said he felt that was “a little excessive,” speaking as a former councilmember in Milton, Washington.

“Even if you gave yourselves 15%, I think that would be agreeable to the public,” Ott said.

Councilmember Henry Wade said he, too, thought both figures were a little high.

“I respect the hours and the time the mayor puts in,” Wade said. “I respect the amount of hours and the time my fellow councilmembers put in and the time they spend away from their families, the things we do on Sundays and Friday nights and Wednesday afternoons when we’re away from our families. I think that should be respected and taken into consideration. Should we get paid for that? That’s not why we’re here, but if the salary is there then I think we should receive that salary.”

Vice Mayor Nancy Smith came to a compromise figure that decreased the raises proposed by Horst. She made comparisons to other Arizona cities, as introduced by Horst, and added in a “complexity factor” due to Maricopa’s growth and demand.

Her proposal brought the council salary to $20,500 and the mayor to $33,600, which were the figures approved. The mayor’s salary was not as simple as a raise, however.

The current mayoral salary is $23,000 plus benefits. Brown said it did not make sense for the mayor to receive, since 2017, a car allowance of $6,000 plus the full-time use of a city car. The council opted to raise his salary 20% to $27,600, remove the car allowance in name and add the $6,000 to the mayor’s salary to reach the $33,600 total. The council vote also codified the mayor’s official use of a city car.

The car became a very real issue for Mayor Christian Price when he was the victim of a hit-and-run in his personal car while on city business and had to shoulder the financial burden. After the accident, the council made the stipend available. Price said the fleet manager had noticed the mayor used a city vehicle more often than his department heads.

Price said he puts in more than 60 hours a week as mayor by his own choice and drives about 4,000 miles a month as part of the job.

Councilmembers have earned an $18,000 annual salary since 2017.

The decision on the 14% raise does not affect the benefits package for councilmembers, which includes a $1,200 annual auto allowance, $900 annual cellphone allowance, health insurance and Copper Sky memberships.

Gusse estimated her full salary and benefits for the part-time job as councilwoman at $36,000.

She said she felt uneasy voting on a raise without benefit of a study from a committee or public input, especially with COVID-19 still lurking.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Gusse said. “I think it’s unfair to give yourself a raise right now.”

Councilmember Rich Vitiello said the council salary was below minimum wage.

Councilmember Vincent Manfredi had suggested putting in the increase over two years. “And we can cancel the second increase if COVID seems to be flying out of control. We can say, ‘Whoop, forget it. Don’t put it in.’ So next January, we get the other half.”

The council chose not to do that. Instead, they approved the 14% increase and tied future increases to any city employee raises.