For the first time in more than three decades, the Atascadero City Council may give itself a raise — perhaps even doubling members’ monthly stipends to $600 a month.
It’s now one of the lowest-paid councils in San Luis Obispo County.
Council members and the mayor currently receive a $300 monthly stipend; reimbursements for city business expenses such as mileage if they submit a reimbursement request; and an option for life, medical, dental and vision benefits for themselves only.
If a council member or mayor opts for all of the life and health benefits, it costs the city up to $582 per month depending on the plan they select. Council members who don’t opt for benefits can’t get cash in lieu of benefits, officials said.
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The council has agreed in recent weeks that possible raises aren’t just about their own pocketbooks but also to encourage others to serve on future councils.
Any changes wouldn’t affect the council today, but would become effective Jan. 1, 2017, after the city’s next election in November 2016.
“I think it is important that it’s not about the five of us. ... There’s often times where people cannot afford the time and expense in (serving) when it’s only going to be a stipend of $300 per month,” Councilwoman Heather Moreno said. “I think we need to think about future councils and what sort of financial constraint there could be for individuals like that.”
Several council members said their council workload consumes roughly 20 hours a week or more in serving on various boards, attending nonprofit events and photo ops, meeting with community members and studying staff reports to prepare for and participate in council meetings and other boards.
“I can give you my personal experience because I’m self employed,” said Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi, a real estate agent. “When I’m doing city business (such as) going to a commission meeting in San Luis Obispo for half the day — that’s half the day that I’m not able to work.”
She said she accounted for that when deciding to become an elected official, but she could see how that might deter others.
Mayor Tom O’Malley agreed, saying that often only retired residents can serve.
“I have heard a number of younger council members really say they could just not continue to do this service. I think it can skew who we get representing us on our council.”
Several options will be brought back for discussion at the council’s Aug. 11 meeting, as well as stipend options for the city’s other elected positions — the city clerk and city treasurer. Those positions currently receive $200 each per month, as set in the early 1990s. The city clerk and treasurer also get employee-only life and health benefits.
One option is increasing the monthly council stipend from $300 to $600, the mayor from $300 to $750, and the city treasurer and city clerk from $200 to $400 per month. The other option would be keeping the monthly council stipend at $300, increasing the mayor to $500 and city treasurer and city clerk to $300 per month.
According to a chart presented to council by city staff, Atascadero and Grover Beach’s monthly council and mayor stipends are $300 each — the lowest in San Luis Obispo 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.