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San Marcos councilmembers setting own pay

The San Marcos City Council in a meeting earlier this year.

By BILL PETERSON
Executive Editor

San Marcos City Councilmembers went around for about 45 minutes Thursday night trying to decide how to pay themselves and managed to not start a heated argument.

But consensus still came slowly before the council directed city staff to craft an ordinance by which councilmembers would be paid $500 per month and the mayor would earn $750 per month.

No vote was required during the budget discussion before giving direction to the city staff. However, the numbers being sent to the staff secured broad enough agreement to end the discussion.

Once the ordinance is presented to the city council at a future meeting, the council would have to approve it in two different readings before the compensation becomes law.

City voters approved a charter amendment last November allowing councilmembers to determine their own compensation. At present, the mayor and councilmembers receive no compensation. However, councilmembers receive expense reimbursements reaching $10,000 to $12,000, while the mayor receives reimbursements up to $16,000.

The council reimbursements were unclear to the participants in Thursday’s meeting, which included councilmembers and the city’s administrative staff. While the staff said councilmembers receive $10,000 per year, Mayor Susan Narvaiz said she was certain the council reimbursement is really $12,000 following action the council took while adopting the Fiscal Year 2009 budget.

In either case, council also decided Thursday night that the councilmember reimbursement should be $12,000, with the mayor’s reimbursement remaining at $16,000.

In addition to settling on figures for council pay and expense reimbursements, the council also directed administrators to craft legislation to include office space and staff pay among the expenses councilmembers could claim. The office expenses were included at the request of Councilmember Chris Jones, who is prohibited by state law from doing council business from his office at Texas State.

The discussion began with a range of proposals. Councilmember Kim Porterfield wondered if the group should receive pay at all, saying, “I’m concerned about the message that we send” during tough economic times. On the high end, Narvaiz proposed that councilmembers receive $1,000 per month, while the mayor would receive $2,000 per month. Narvaiz hastened to add that she would accept no pay during her current term, to which she was re-elected last November on the premise that she would not be paid.

“There is an expense to doing this job far beyond the time,” Narvaiz said. ” … There are so many issues now that didn’t exist when this form of government started.”

Narvaiz added that higher compensation would make it more feasible for citizens of all means to become councilmembers, arguing that the commitment made by councilmembers is steep enough that only people with resources can afford to do the job.

Jones proposed that councilmembers receive $800-$1,000 per month, with Councilmember Fred Terry agreeing to $800. Councilmember Gaylord Bose said $200 per month would be sufficient. Councilmember John Thomaides said he wouldn’t want to go much beyond $100 per meeting, which city voters have rejected. Thomaides said $200 per meeting would be fair for a councilmember. One councilmember, Pam Couch, was not present for the discussion.

If all the compensation is approved, then the total city outlay to pay councilmembers and cover their expenses would come to $140,000.

One reason the discussion meandered was because a market study of nearby and comparable cities demonstrated absolutely no correlation between city size and council compensation.

For example, Austin, with a population of 770,753 (more than 15 times the size of San Marcos), pays councilmembers $61,256 annually, along with a $5,400 per year car allowance, a $900 per year phone stipend, all city-related expenses and health insurance up to $8,619 per year in premiums. The mayor receives the same benefits with a $71,125 salary.

Meanwhile, San Antonio, with a population of 1,320,100, is 26 times the size of San Marcos, but compensates its councilmembers a lot less. Councilmembers receive $20 per meeting, a car allowance of $550 per month, a $70 per month cell phone allowance, expenses up to $8,400 per year and health insurance. The mayor receives the same package, but $50 per meeting instead of $20.

College Station (population 90,897) and Pflugerville (population 47,417) give their mayors and councilmembers only their expenses.

But Seguin (population 25,094) pays its mayor $9,000 per year with $200 per month for a car allowance, while councilmembers receive $450 per month. Kyle, which is very close to Seguin at its 25,322 population, pays its mayor and councilmembers $50 per meeting. Seguin and Kyle both pay their councilmembers’ expenses for training.

San Marcos claims a population of 50,373. Georgetown (population 48,988) is the closest to San Marcos’ size among cities in the survey. Georgetown pays its mayor $450 per month and its councilmembers $300 per month. The mayor and councilmembers in Georgetown receive stipends of $800 per month for expenses.

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#1 Comment By Ted Marchut On 05/22/2009 @ 7:55 am

I just want to be sure that I am understanding this. The city was given a very clearly worded ballot item, to pay Council $100 per meeting. We voted it down. $100 per meeting would work out to about $200 per month.

Then, we see a ballot item that is worded very differently and is very easy to misunderstand (in a number of ways). It passes and now we’re talking about paying 2.5x the amount we voted against when everyone could easily understand the ballot item?

Not only that, but people actually had the audacity to float the idea of paying 5-10x the amount that was voted down?

Wow.

#2 Comment By Wow On 05/22/2009 @ 10:47 am

To look at the other cities and what they are doing is very interesting.

#3 Comment By big Dog On 05/22/2009 @ 9:02 pm

Giving these guys the task of writing their paycheck is like giving the lunatics they key to asylum.

#4 Comment By Steve Harvey On 05/24/2009 @ 9:29 pm

Our city leaders are out of touch. People are losing jobs or fearful or at least very concerned about how to best make it through these turbulent economic times, and to see them move forward with this right now is disappointing. Not very statesperson like, at a time when we need true leadership instead of small town politics as usual. The wording on the ballot was so vague. The City of San Marcos has been spending beyond its means, homeowners are highly taxed, and we need fresh thinking on fostering economic diversity and vitality.

#5 Comment By government hack On 05/24/2009 @ 10:48 pm

Their timing couldn’t be worse on this. You have a city where the median household income is around $26,000, and has a major brain drain, and you’ve got elected leadership looking to skim a little from taxpayers that at their incomes, are already struggling. Instead they give away tax dollars to support businesses that are bringing in pathetic $8/hr unskilled retail jobs with no benefits. It’s become a city where every developer gets some kind of special favor. They need to be focused on identifying niche growing industries that will create better paying skilled jobs, with quality job/skill training to make San Marcos attractive. How a city with a major university blows it on attracting economic development to keep university graduates in San Marcos truly amazes me. They managed to screw up high tech back around 2000, and have continued by completely blowing it with healthcare. San Marcos has everything going for it… except for effective leadership.

I expected this from most of the Council, but was terribly disappointed to see it from Thomaides and Jones. You two are better than that.

Let’s hope someday San Marcos gets that once in a generation visionary leader that can create a true collaborative vision and not get hung-up in the local government politics as usual. I’ve seen it happen elsewhere, and know San Marcos has talented people to make it happen here, too.

#6 Comment By Allen On 05/25/2009 @ 11:46 am

It amazed me the voters passed it. Comes to show how useless Democracy is when the voters are idiots.