Amid redevelopment cuts, council ponders increasing their pay

Faced with a mandated 40% pay cut to get in line with a state cap on compensation for serving on the local redevelopment agency, City Council members on Tuesday said they wanted to partially offset their income loss.

The pay cut was triggered after Glendale’s population dropped below 200,000, according to figures from the state Department of Finance. Under state law, that drop limits redevelopment compensation for council members to $120 a month. Council members have each been paid $1,400 a month for their work on the agency since 2002 because at the time, the city was above the population threshold.

But according to the latest state and federal figures, Glendale’s population is approximately 192,000.

The move puts Glendale at the forefront of population impacts on pay for elected officials, said John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Assn.

“This is the first I’ve heard of any city or agency having the experience where they fall under the magic line,” he said.

To compensate for the reduction in redevelopment compensation, the City Council is considering increasing the regular pay drawn by members from $1,100 per month to $1,320 per month. The 20% raise is within state laws that allow for 5% increases every year since the last salary increase. Glendale’s last pay raise for council members was in April 2007.

“We are the third largest city in L.A. County,” said Councilman Dave Weaver, describing the raise as a way to recoup some of the forced pay cut. “None of us are going to get rich off this council salary.”

The pay adjustments would mean that the overall council salary would drop from $41,100 per year — including pension, car allowances and agency stipends — to $28,380. But the city would also cover all of the council’s medical benefits, which comes to an extra city outlay of about $250 or $350 per month per member, depending on healthcare dependents.

The redevelopment deductions would take effect as soon as the council votes, but the raise wouldn’t come into play until April 2013, the next new term. Currently, City Council members get paid even if they don’t attend a redevelopment meeting. That won’t be the case, once the new ordinance is passed, City Atty. Mike Garcia said.

Councilman Rafi Manoukian on Tuesday said he was concerned about how a raise would affect city morale, although he voted to have the proposed changes come back for consideration.

“It just doesn’t bode well for the organization as a whole,” he said.

The proposed council salary increase comes after the city’s police, general employee unions and department executives agreed this year to reduce their salaries and pay a larger share into their health care and pension plans to save the city about $3 million amidst an $18-million budget gap.

Budget deficits in cities throughout the state have tempered any moves to increase compensation of elected officials, said Patrick Whitnell, general counsel at the League of California Cities.

The move also comes as the public has put a laser focus on city compensation recently, swaying officials across the country to skip hiking their salaries.

“My sense is that councils are being cautious about giving themselves pay raises,” he said. “It looks bad for councils to give themselves raises while at the same time cutting services and laying off employees.”

But City Manager Jim Starbird on Tuesday said that while he too was concerned about morale, no other group of employees had to take a 40% cut. And even with the proposed raise, the city would still save about $55,000 a year.

“I think you’re fully justified,” Starbird said, adding that he didn’t think the city’s population would rebound before the start of the next term.