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