More money and benefits are on the way for Atascadero’s elected officials, who are among the lowest paid in San Luis Obispo County. The City Council on Tuesday gave itself a raise for the first time in 30 years, effective Jan. 1, 2017.
The city’s elected city clerk and city treasurer positions also received a boost.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday to increase its monthly stipends from $300 to $600 each for council members; from $300 to $750 for the mayor; and from $200 to $400 for the city clerk and the city treasurer.
The council mostly agreed that raises would encourage more participation on future councils.
Per state law, City Council members’ pay increases can only go into effect after the city’s next election. The law doesn’t mention timing restrictions on pay increases for the city’s mayor, clerk or treasurer positions, officials said. Still, the Atascadero City Council voted to change all of the salaries at once.
Heavy workloads tacked to elected positions can make it difficult for anyone other than retirees or the independently wealthy to commit, council members have said.
“I hate to discourage people from running because of the money,” Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi, a real estate agent, told The Tribune on Wednesday.
“If I take time to attend an afternoon meeting, that’s time I’m not working. It impacts my ability to make a living, timewise. … That was my choice, and I embrace that fully. But I don’t think you should punish people financially for wanting to serve,” she said.
She also said increasing the stipends would allow officials to buy tickets to attend more community events, for which they are not reimbursed.
The only council member who opposed the increase was Bob Kelley.
“Bottom line: I think everyone sitting on the City Council would do it for free if it came down to the nitty-gritty of it all,” Kelley said.
The council also added optional dental and vision coverage for elected officials’ dependents, upping the city’s monthly contribution cost from a maximum of $582 to $662, depending on the plan.
The council currently has an option for city-paid life, medical, dental and vision benefits for themselves only, not dependents.
The council also is reimbursed for city business expenses such as mileage, which remain the same.
According to a chart presented to the council by city staff earlier this summer, Atascadero and Grover Beach’s monthly council and mayor stipends are $300 each — the lowest in the county. Monthly stipends in other cities are: $405 for council and mayor in Arroyo Grande; $500 for council and $700 for mayor in Morro Bay; $600 for council and $800 for mayor in Paso Robles; $514.80 for council and $814.80 for mayor in Pismo Beach; and $1,200 for council and $1,500 for mayor in San Luis Obispo.