Modesto City Council members voted themselves a pay raise Tuesday, but several of them said they don't plan to take the extra salary.
By a 4-3 vote, the council approved pay hikes that will take effect July 1. Mayor Jim Ridenour's salary will increase to $3,600 a month from $800; the six council members' will rise to $2,000 a month from $800.
Council members Brad Hawn, Janice Keating and Garrad Marsh were in the minority. They said they would waive the salary increases because of the city's budget crisis.
Mayor Jim Ridenour on Monday announced his 2008-09 budget plan, which includes $10 million in spending cuts.
"I want my colleagues to receive this increase, but I will give it up and I hope the $14,000 contribution from my family goes to help some department because we're all in this together, and you balance a budget in very small ways," Keating said, referring to the difference between her current salary and the one council members will receive in July.
She appeared exasperated while describing her decision, saying she and her colleagues had absorbed rounds of "barbs and insults" over the raises for the past few months.
Ridenour and council members Dave Lopez, Will O'Bryant and Kristin Olsen favored the raises, but they can choose to pass on the increases. Olsen and Ridenour said they're not sure whether they'll take them.
The raises will cost the city $117,000 a year. Several council members said that sum wouldn't be enough to hire a police officer or firefighter when employment benefits are taken into account.
Resident: Hire police instead
Modesto resident Mary Mount urged the council to wait on the raises. She said the council should address the city's crime problems and resolve its stalled negotiations with the Modesto City Employees Association before taking pay hikes.
"It is unimaginable that our council would accept raises that could be used to fill vacant police positions," she said.
Two other residents, political watchers Dan Nickles and Bishop Bergstrom, encouraged the officials to accept the raises, arguing that the council members are underpaid.
"You can't pay your phone bill on what the council members get," Bergstrom said.
Voters set a course for the pay raises in February when they approved Measure M. It expanded the mayor's authority and created a commission charged with recommending salaries for elected officials.
That five-person commission, led by retired Judge Hugh Rose III, held a dozen public meetings before it voted on pay recommendations.
Lopez said Measure M's success at the polls left a mandate for the raises. He also said the pay raises would allow more people to run for office, especially those who had put off public service because they could not afford to take time off their full-time jobs.
Ridenour said the council never would find a politically acceptable time to take pay raises, especially with tight budgets looming for the next few years.
"I do know one thing; this job is costing me and my family a heck of a lot more money than I ever thought it would, because we have to do these things."
Ridenour said he and his wife plan to discuss whether he should take the raise.
O'Bryant said he typically spends $825 a month on city business, $125 more than he clears from his monthly stipend. His city-related expenses include car maintenance, car insurance, phone bills and computer costs.
"If I turn my raise down, it's not going to fix MCEA and the contract negotiations, it's not going to hire any policemen and it's not going to fix the budget," he said. "When you look at the totality of the problems we have, this council raise is nothing."
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.