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