Garden Grove City Council members, who haven’t had a raise since 1974, may consider increasing their compensation by $300 before the next election cycle.
The last adjustment to council member pay took effect in 1976, and has not changed since then. The mayor receives $600 a month salary and council members receive $486.05 each month, according to a city staff report.
If those salaries were adjusted for inflation, council members would be paid $2,038.49 a month in today’s dollars, and the mayor would get $2,516.39 a month, according to the staff report.
A survey done by city staff of ten other Orange County cities showed Garden Grove council members are paid well below colleagues in other cities.
Anaheim topped the list, with council members taking home $1,500, plus a car allowance. Buena Park was next with a $1,141 monthly salary. In Westminster, a city half the size of Garden Grove, council members earn $955.50 each month.
The city of Orange eliminated council member salaries in 2012, and Huntington Beach also reduced salaries during the recession.
Councilman Chris Phan proposed raising the salary by $300 per month for council members and the mayor.
“Forty years is a long, long time,” Phan said. “I don’t think we should take action tonight, close to midnight when no one is here. But…300 dollars is well within the guidelines of where we need to be and well below the maximum.”
State government code sets a ceiling for how much council members can increase their salaries, according to Deputy City Manager Maria Stipe.
That maximum is $1,360.94 a month for council members and $1,474.89 a month for the mayor, not including any health or retirement benefits, according to a staff report.
Councilman Steve Jones asked what it would take to implement an automobile allowance, such as the $500 monthly allowance that Santa Ana City Council members receive.
While the council would need to wait until the next election cycle to implement a salary increase, adding a car allowance could take effect immediately, according to Stipe.
Council member Phat Bui said the council should regularly address the issue so that the city doesn’t have to make such major increases all at once.
“When a council member from Westminster found out how much Garden Grove gets compensated, they was (sic) shocked, they couldn’t imagine that a big city like us, compensated less than a city of their size,” Bui said.
Bui also brought up the issue of council members having to dig into their own pockets to make donations or buy tickets to community and charitable events. He suggested the city establish a fund that council members could tap for such situations.
“Ever since I’ve become a city council member, my cost goes up tremendously, every association calling up on me for donations, coming to their event, and a lot of these…I could’t say no, even if it’s just 35 or 40 dollars,” Bui said. “[A charity fund] would come a long way to help us out on our own expenses on behalf of the city.”
Regarding the compensation increases, Phan said when he brought up the idea, he didn’t intend to benefit the present council and felt they shouldn’t vote on a car allowance or any other increases on behalf of themselves.
“I want to make sure we get the highest caliber candidates. Right now we only have independently wealthy people and retirees, not the everyday person,” Phan said. “That’s the reason why I’d want the next council to benefit – some of us may not be here for the next one.”
Mayor Bao Nguyen said any increase at this time would be inappropriate, given the city is still in negotiations with its employee unions.
“I don’t think those who run for office do it for the money,” Nguyen said. “If you’re out there and you wan’t to do this for the money, please don’t.”
Nguyen proposed addressing the issue closer to the filing period for the next election. Phan said he’s fine with that.
“I just want to make sure that we touch the hot potato now, so it’s not a shock when we do bring it back,” he said.
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