Pismo Beach council raise is acceptable

The Pismo Beach City Council gave itself a $118-a-month pay raise Tuesday night, boosting a council member’s salary to $514 a month, plus medical benefits and Internet and phone allowances. The mayor will earn a little more — $714 a month. While it’s natural to raise an eyebrow whenever elected officials vote themselves raises, we don’t think the Pismo Beach City Council was out of line. Here’s why:

The new pay scale won’t take effect until December 2008. That’s after the next council and mayoral elections, which means some incumbents may not even personally benefit from the raises.

The council’s last raise was in December 2002. By the time the new rate takes effect, six years will have passed— which means a raise will be due, if not overdue.

Finally, the new rate is in line with what other cities are paying. Pismo council members will be earning slightly more than their colleagues in the South County — the Arroyo Grande City Council position pays $330 a month and Grover pays $300 —but less than SLO council members, who earn $1,000, and Morro Bay council members, $525.

Given the level of commitment required for city council service, residents in all these cities are getting a bargain.

With twice-a-month council meetings, subcommittee meetings, public appearances, phone calls and e-mails from constituents and reading up on issues, serving on a city council can be nearly a full-time job. Stipends of $300, $500 or even $1,000 a month aren’t unreasonable burdens for taxpayers.

While clearly not head-of-household wages, stipends can at least compensate council members for out-of-pocket expenses, such as mileage and meals.

That matters because elected service shouldn’t be solely for those wealthy enough to shell out their own money for expenses.

Bottom line: City Councils shouldn’t shy away from periodic adjustments of their salaries out of fear of public displeasure.

If a council hasn’t looked at its salary scale for five or six years, it’s time to put that on the agenda.

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