SLO Council should have voted in favor of pay review panel

Putting off look at salary and benefits for two years serves no useful purpose, and doing it now wouldn’t have caused a burden

SLO City Council members did the right thing last year when they voluntarily agreed to take a pay cut, saving the city $8,300 per year. But that same council blew it this week when it voted, 3-2, against appointing an advisory committee to review salary and benefits for future councils.

While we don’t believe that council members are gouging the taxpayers, in this economic climate it would have been wise to invite an advisory panel to weigh in on whether salary and benefits are fair. That’s especially important at this point, when the city is asking employees to make major salary and benefit concessions.

Also, we shouldn’t have to rely on — or expect — future council members to voluntarily give up a chunk of their salaries. It makes more sense to determine areasonable compensation package that recognizes the city’s fiscal challenges, and apply that going forward.

To be clear, there is not a great deal of money tied up in SLO Council salaries; tweaking them a percentage point or two won’t make or break the city’s budget.

That said, San Luis Obispo does pay its mayor and council members considerably more than other local cities. Also, the city offers CalPERS retirement system benefits to the mayor and council, which is not the norm for local cities.

Last year, the city paid $15,900 in PERS pension coverage for council members. This year, that’s expected to drop to $10,800, since the current council agreed to pay an 8 percent share of costs, which the city had been covering. That’s a step in the right direction, but we question whether it makes sense to provide part-time, elected officials with these pension benefits at all.

Again, we’re not talking about a great deal of money. However, this is a matter of principle — not dollars and cents.

We agree with Councilman John Ashbaugh — who, with Mayor Jan Marx, voted against the majority — when he blasted the decision as a “failure of leadership.”

We are disappointed that the other three council members — Dan Carpenter, Kathy Smith and Andrew Carter — voted to put off the review for another two years. We can’t come up with a single legitimate reason for the delay.

And please, Councilman Carpenter, spare us the weak excuse that the process would have taken up too much staff time. When a council pay panel was last convened 2008, there were only two meetings held. Staff assisted by creating agendas and keeping notes. That hardly seems onerous — especially when you consider the staff time devoted to the city’s many advisory committees.

The City Council should have welcomed a review by a compensation panel, instead of inviting criticism by dodging it. It’s a long time to wait, but we urge the next council not to make that same mistake two years from now.