Westminster Approves Raises for City Manager, Public Executives

The Westminster City Council conducts city business during a meeting in the Council Chambers on Wednesday, June 28, 2017. JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Less than a year after Westminster voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase, the city council has approved raises for police and management employees, including the city manager.

The city council Wednesday night approved a three-year agreement for the city manager and 56 management positions, which includes a three percent raise the first year of the agreement and a 3.5 percent raise the second and third years.

The council also increased the severance pay the city manager would receive, if fired, from six to 12 months of his pay.

The council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Margie Rice voting no, to approve both agreements.

Wednesday’s action follows a vote in September to give the same raise to sworn police officers. Rank-and-file municipal employees were also granted a three-year agreement in June which includes $3,000 cash stipends the first year of the contract followed by $1-per-hour raise the following two years.

The raises come as the city is beginning to see a trickle of new revenue from its one-cent sales tax increase, known as Measure SS, which was approved by 60 percent of voters last November. City officials say the increase will generate up to $14 million in new annual revenue.

The tax increase ballot measure was advertised by proponents as a move to prevent a looming bankruptcy and maintain essential city services, including public safety.

The city police and municipal employees’ union both spent heavily to pass the measure, with the police union spending at least $52,242 in 2016 in support of the sales tax increase and the municipal employees union spending $21,730, according to campaign disclosures.

Resident Sandra McClure, who said she was against Measure SS, questioned whether the raises will put the city in a difficult financial position in six years, when the sales tax increase sunsets and voters will need to decide whether or not to renew the tax.

“After six years the city could be in a worse position than it was before the measure was passed,” McClure said.

The salary increase for management employees will cost the city an additional $502,890 over the next three years, while City Manager Eddie Manfro will receive an additional $33,147.

After the raises, City Manager Eddie Manfro’s salary would be about $234,472 in 2019, or $304,015 including benefits, according to HR director Mike Harary.

Harary said management employees have not received a raise since 2010.

“Your employees did not receive raises but were subject to furloughs, pay cuts and pretty significant lay-offs,” Harary said, referring to lay-offs in 2012 when nearly a third of city staff were cut.

Councilmember Margie Rice was the only member to vote against the raises, although she voted for previous agreements for the police union and municipal employees.

“The people I talked to when they voted for [measure] SS, was for the police, and to get us out of debt, and to save us from bankruptcy,” Rice said. “I know they deserve some raises but I think it is a little bit rushed."

Councilman Sergio Contreras said that salary increases are necessary to stay competitive with other cities.

“We want to be able to retain quality staff,” said Contreras. “[Measure SS] also included preserving public services…and I don’t want to have a revolving door of staff members because we cannot compete.”

Mayor Tri Ta did not comment on the management raises but praised Manfro.

“He’s a really, really good city manager, outstanding, and professional,” Ta said. “If we compare his salary with other cities, I believe he’s one of the lowest paid city managers in this county.”

Diep, who was against Measure SS, questioned why there was no opposition voiced on previous agreements to give raises to other employees.

“It’s a little troubling that there's opposition to our city manager contract when what is before us tonight is very similar to what we give to the other groups,” Diep said.

He called the raise for Manfro a “minor salary adjustment.”

“If the five of us do not take care of the only single employee that answers directly to us, how do we expect anybody to be attentive to our interests?” Diep added.

McClure, who was one of three residents who spoke against the raises, questioned whether the city is doing enough to crack down on all cash businesses in Westminster, an issue many opponents raised during the campaign for Measure SS.

“There’s been an issue going on that there are many businesses that do not pay their sales taxes,” said resident Sandra McClure, who also owns a business in Westminster. “I believe that’s part of the reason why we’re in such a deficit.”

McClure said the city should raise the issue to the state Board of Equalization, which until recently was responsible for administering statewide taxes. The agency has since been restructured into the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

“You would think that in a city where a councilman works for the state Board of Equalization that the tax compliance would be higher,” said McClure, referring to the fact that councilman Tyler Diep works for the agency as an assistant tax service specialist.

Assistant City Manager Chet Simmons said this week the city met with the Tax and Fee Administration and that the agency will be conducting a citywide survey of sales tax compliance.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.