San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 7th, 2011
City council discusses additional compensation

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San Marcos City Councilmember Ryan Thomason said additional compensation for city councilmembers would draw higher quality candidates. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

By ANDY SEVILLA
Associate Editor

As the federal and state governments deliberate cutbacks in services due to financial constraints, San Marcos city councilmembers are in a tussle over increasing their own pay by 150 percent.

Councilmember Ryan Thomason suggested last week that elected officials approve a measure increasing their own compensation by $750 per month, bringing their total monthly intake to $1,250, a figure other councilmembers found inappropriate.

Councilmembers presently have the option to accept a $500 monthly fee. Councilmembers also receive $12,000 annually for expenses, generally to cover travel expenses. The mayor receives $750 per month in compensation and $18,000 annually for expenses.

Any increase to councilmembers’ compensation is “not good” right now because of the timing said Councilmember Kim Porterfield.

“When I have expenses, I use my office holder account, not tax dollars,” Porterfield said.

Said councilmember Chris Jones, “I think Mrs. Porterfield hit this on the head. The timing sucks.”

Porterfield and Jones are prohibited from taking the monthly compensation because they are state employees. However, they are allowed to get reimbursed for expenditures incurred while performing as an elected official. Porterfield accepts nothing, while Jones is reimbursed for office space and a paid assistant, which Jones said serve to facilitate communication and involvement with the citizenry.

Thomason said his push for more money is to encourage more San Marcos citizens to run for public office. He said several individuals cannot afford to take off as much time from work as is necessary in public office, or they can’t afford a babysitter, gas, etc., adding that an increase in pay would offer financial protection.

“So many people absolutely cannot do it,” Thomason said. “It’s not about, ‘Do they love San Marcos?’ It’s that they can’t afford to hold office.”

Thomason suggested the $750 per month increase come from two places – an outright $250 increase from the budget and a $500 increase to be taken from councilmembers’ expense budgets.

“I would like to have more flexibility with those (travel) funds,” councilmember Jude Prather said. “I think it’s bloated already.”

Prather said he felt councilmembers should only travel around San Marcos, to Austin and to Washington D.C.

Councilmember Shane Scott also was in favor of seeing a compensation increase coming from travel funds, though Mayor Daniel Guerrero, like Porterfield and Jones, was against an increase.

Guerrero said “compensation right now is adequate,” but that it’s important to get an increase compensation conversation started. Guerrero suggested the matter go before the finance audit committee, which is comprised of Guerrero, Thomason, and Jones.

Thomason said more dialogue is necessary, but that his suggestion as to where the money could come from is not a bad start. He said that ultimately the goal of a compensation increase is to encourage and facilitate more public participation.

“The $500 (per month) (councilmembers) get now, it’s a couple of tanks of gas and it might allow someone to go and hire a babysitter during council meetings, and after taxes, you’re done,” Thomason said. “That is all you’re going to get. And you don’t want to give (councilmembers) $3,000 a month, because all of a sudden it’s an occupation, and we want to stay away from that. But if you find some line in there, where it allows people the freedom and flexibility, but doesn’t make them necessarily comfortable, then I think it opens it up to a lot more possibilities.”

Thomason said the city could end up saving “many millions” of dollars with the diverse backgrounds every public office candidate brings.

“You’ll start attracting people, you’ll start attracting the CPAs (Certified Public Accountant) of the world that know what a 200 page budget looks like, you’ll start attracting bankers and people that have that kind of involvement,” Thomason said. “It doesn’t take too many people to make a comment about something. I make construction comments and everybody perks up. It doesn’t take four of us to make construction comments, it just takes one. So, if we have that mixture here and there, off and on, we don’t have to stack up the whole council in the next election, but if you have those people here and there, it would save us a tremendous amount of money.

“I’m all about saving money and doing whatever it takes to save money,” Thomason added. “And there are areas where you can spend money and make money. And the people that make $100 million decisions is a place where we can spend money and make money … And I’m not saying we have a bad group, but we’re missing people that could have some very good input here and there.”

Thomson said his construction background has brought about comments and questions that raise red flags, and “anytime you raise a red flag, you have an opportunity to save some money. And you can’t tell me that if we had a CPA on here, they wouldn’t have some comments during budget cycle that wouldn’t save some money. I mean, there is no way this couldn’t help.”

Thomason said there are untapped resources among San Marcos residents, but, he said, some residents have to work two jobs to survive. With a compensation increase, they, too, could consider a run for office, Thomason said.

Councilmembers also have an option to accept a $75 monthly stipend for cell phone service, take on a city issued mobile phone, or not accept either offer. All current elected officials have accepted the benefit.

In November 2008, San Marcos voters approved a non-binding charter amendment for council to set its own pay in a public forum through an ordinance. The amendment passed with 80.28 percent approval.

A year later, in November 2009, council finalized and approved an ordinance setting council pay at $500 and mayor pay at $750 per month. Porterfield and John Thomaides voted against the measure in its final reading, while Jones, Fred Terry, Pam Couch, Gaylord Bose and then-Mayor Susan Narvaiz voted in favor.

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18 thoughts on “City council discusses additional compensation

  1. I told myself after the last city council elections I would keep to myself when it came to city government. But I have to call “BS” on this one. Mr. Thomason, serving as an elected official is a duty and a privilege not a profession.
    Mr. Scott, give me a break. You are the newest member entrusted to serve San Marcos. You have only been there a few months. What in the world could have done already that you would have the audacity to ask for a raise? Truly a case of, “you should have looked before you leaped.”

  2. Thank you Mr. van Ouderkerke! Ryan acting like the child who has never heard the word “NO.” I posted earlier but Ryan must have a friend on the staff who didn’t like my comment.> Thomason said there are untapped resources among San Marcos residents, but, he said, some residents have to work two jobs to survive “I’m all about saving money and doing whatever it takes to save money,” Thomason added. Mr. Thomason those untapped resources usually can’t afford ($$) to campaign. When your hand picked and have wealth and wealthy friends well….there you go.

  3. What Ryan seems to be proposing is a restructuring of the “pay and benefits” package to include more pay and less benefits (in this case, the expense account). I think a $1,000 per month expense allowance is absurd in the first place, but at least the money doesn’t go anywhere unless expenses are incurred.

    What Ryan is proposing is to move $500/month from “reimbursements” to “salary”, which is guaranteed money to the Council. A pretty good deal for someone who isn’t using that expense account money, but a certain drain on the financial coffers of the City. He sure is trying to sell it as a move that won’t be a burden financially, though.

    It’s ironic that he brings up the need for a CPA on Council (presumably to help with fiscal responsibility) in the same argument where he offers up a proposal that is financially misguided.

    On a side note, if $500 only buys council members “a couple tanks of gas and a babysitter”, I would LOVE to be able to apply to be his next babysitter……sounds like he or she is well-paid!

  4. I think increasing the incentive would have exactly the opposite effect Ryan suggests. I doubt that the pay is what keeps succesful business people from running. There’s so much more to the equation. But you drag $1,250/month through a trailer park and I think you’ll be astonished what comes crawling out from under the porch.

  5. Not living in SM any longer, I don’t have a dog in the fight, so I’m just thinking out loud. Did they know what the compensation package was when they ran? How long has it been that SM paid its council members? What have they done to deserve a raise? How about school board members, should they be paid and if so how much?

  6. I’d pay school board members before I raised the pay for council. School Board = twice the work and none of the glory.

  7. I’m not sure what I think yet, but I’d sure feel better if the discussions were about higher compensation for *future* council members. That would give the economy time to recover, would slowly roll the increases in, as seats turned over and would eliminate any questions of impropriety, or “what have they done to deserve a raise.”

    If the increase is to attract better candidates, then it certainly isn’t needed for the sitting members, who have already been “attracted” to the role.

    I’m still in favor of council people turning their compensation over to the food bank and will still match the first one who does.

  8. Prather says council should only travel to around San Marcos, Austin and Washington, DC. after he returns from his city paid trip in December to a Denver conference…with ex-mayor Narvaiz (also paid for by city)

    Porterfield says when she has expenses she uses her office holder account not “taxpayer dollars”. There’s no difference.

    Thomason says council will get more bankers. No thanks. And, “It will be revenue neutral” If they don’t spend the travel money, it is not accrued but absorbed back into budget.

    As the “conservative” on the council I am surprised that Ryan is proposing this.

  9. What I understand is that the monies that are already approved by the voters are being used in a different way. Not that they are asking for more money. Please stop misleading people, its the kind of thing that makes people lose elections…remember???

  10. Voter,
    There is a big difference between using City money and using an “office holder account”. An “office holder account” is money that is left over from campaign contributions. In fact, it is money that a candidate’s supporters have given the candidate to run for office. I have always questioned the propriety of using an “office holder account”. As a frequent contributor to many and varied political campaigns, it was never my intent to provide a slush fund for the candidate after the election. Unfortunately, that is what I have ended up doing many times.

    Lots of people would disagree with me about the use of an “office holder account”. It is perfectly legal and it is perfectly legit to use that account.

    I worry that a large amount of money in travel expense is just an encouragement to attend meetings that are not all that useful and to stay in high price hotels that the office holder would normally bypass for a La Quinta. Over funding the travel expenses also encourages some very expensive meals. I think I would prefer that the money just go to the candidate as salary and let them spend it on what they want.

  11. Charles, You are right. I did not think about the campaign account. I agree with you that they were given money for a campaign and it should be used that way. I don’t believe that expenses incurred by Porterfield or anybody else are not turned in to city for repayment.

    I also agree that it is a difficult job and requires a lot of time and at some point in the future a increase is warranted. I do not have a problem with them staying a nice hotel or eating a nice meal while traveling on behalf of the city, essentially as a volunteer. They are taking time away from family and jobs and I’m sure not all are paid by their employers to travel, especially if self employed.

  12. To: Voter #2

    From: Voter #1

    Not sure why you chose to use my posting alias but here goes. The citizens (voters) did not vote for or approve any amount of money, just that the council could set their pay themselves. They are discussing paying themselves more money, which is not misleading but a fact. This will be my last post as Voter.

  13. I wish we could compensate everyone for what they do for the city equally with money.
    This is just not rational thought.
    There are those who choose city employment as a way to make a living and to better their community
    and then there are those that choose to run for office
    to volunteer their expertise and/or experience to steer their community towards a
    balanced and equitable future that lives within its means and provides the infrastructure
    that free enterprise can flourish in.
    There are also those that feel that they are entitled for compensation for volunteering their self
    pronounced expertise and/or experience that they volunteered to share with the community.
    I am more than sure that if you know you are going to have a legitimate expense
    that is made on behalf of the City of San Marcos you would be able to get it cleared
    through the finance dept and get reimbursed or get a check/Po# at the beginning.
    As for taking the position that we should only have up to 1250.00 in compensation verses
    3000.000. I would contend that giving this pittance of an increase now only sets the stage for the
    increases until we reach the 3000.00. At that time will hear this same story on why we should make it more.
    And as for the pretentious comment about the future savings of millions of dollars if the council members get a total of 1250.00 per month now.
    I say give us a break.
    I believe that our present council represents San Marcos with the diversity that we have in our community.
    I commend them for their service and guidance they give to the city manager and staff.

  14. I don’t think that any elected group should be able to give themselves a raise. When they ran for that office, they knew what the compensation was. If City Council thinks that the “service” they provide should be compensated, then the pay should start with the next election. Same with county officials. They are elected to a position and they know what the pay is. If they feel it is low, they can reset the pay but it wouldn’t go into effect until the next election.

    This is also just poor timing on Ryan’s part. The city has been talking about “righting the financial ship” and may have to make cuts or increase the cost of services. This is not the right time to have this extra expense. Also, once it starts, it will only be a matter of time until the council is on a real full-time salary.

  15. There’s a very good argument to be made about compensating council members so that people from all walks of life can serve as our elected representatives. When (the good one) it’s presented I can entertain that argument and I could agree with either side. Mr. Thomason, in my opinion, is not making a good argument. In fact, I’d say he’s incredibly out of touch with this town based on his comments.

    He says ” And you don’t want to give (councilmembers) $3,000 a month, because all of a sudden it’s an occupation, and we want to stay away from that. But if you find some line in there, where it allows people the freedom and flexibility, but doesn’t make them necessarily comfortable, then I think it opens it up to a lot more possibilities.”

    Well, the median income of our town is around $25K. He’s suggesting that council be paid $15K/yr. for a part time job. But that wouldn’t be comfortable? Maybe not for the small circle he runs with, but for most of this town, that’s pretty comfortable. You tell any of my neighbors, we’ll pay you $15K a year to be prepared to make decisions twice a month and they’d be very comfortable.

    He goes on to say “You’ll start attracting people, you’ll start attracting the CPAs (Certified Public Accountant) of the world that know what a 200 page budget looks like, you’ll start attracting bankers and people that have that kind of involvement,”

    Are these the people that can’t afford to run Ryan? Really? CPAs and bankers? If you’d of followed up by talking about the single mom’s who work two jobs or the farmer who would have to hire on help for when he/she’s away from the work, then I’d of been with you. But bankers and CPAs? Have you noticed the hours bankers keep?

    Ryan, please get to know your town. The greatest talents are not, and especially in the case of San Marcos, always those who have the greatest pay. Your friends are not the community, they’re merely a part of it. A part that requires more compensation than the rest to prove that they “love San Marcos”

    Oh, and it’s laughable that Kim and Chris try to champion this cause, when they legally couldn’t accept the money.

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  17. If I had $500 for gas a month I would be stoked! This should be considered for all employees both for profit and non profit! Yes thank you. Too all employers PLEASE consider this!!! Oh and Austin, D.C. the only places they should travel?? On that point made I will have to say there are other cities we could learn from so if you need to travel and get some ideas on how to save tax payer dollars, increase revenue or even figure out how have a sights and sounds type of celebration where admission is not charged or increase 150 percent then figure it out! If you need to figure out how to have an Veterans day parade on Veterans day to where people can take time out to come together and reflect for a moment and students can actually get a permission slip from their parents to attend the parade and the buses can park where the farmers market is held. Many more people would be involved and have something to look forward to. Fort Worth seems to know how to throw a parade for occasions such as this. Oh and parking for downtown. Other cities have figured this out as well.

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