Are you kidding me?
Pay raises for Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour and members of the City Council?
Is anybody home at Tenth Street Place?
Earlier this week, members of the Modesto City Council voted to increase their salaries, even as they blithely prepare to cut a recommended $10 million worth of city services and amenities from the 2008-09 city budget.
Passage of the pay boost came on a 4-3 vote.
That means three council members -- Brad Hawn, Janice Keating and Garrad Marsh -- got it right. All three said they would waive the $1,200 a month salary boost due each of them, beginning July 1, because of the city's budget crisis.
Collectively, the pay raises will cost Modesto taxpayers ONLY $117,000 a year, a mere drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to government spending.
Voters started this snowball rolling in February, when they approved Measure M.
Basically, that piece of political handiwork gave our city's mayor more weight to throw around and created a commission to set pay scales for our poor underworked and overpaid, er, I mean, overworked and underpaid city leaders.
Now, I can tell you this much.
The angry voters I encountered Wednesday evening, while waiting to pay for my groceries, weren't complaining about Measure M.
No. Their wrath was directed at Ridenour and council members Dave Lopez, Will O'Bryant and Kristin Olsen, all of whom voted in favor of the pay hike. As a result, the mayor's pay jumps to $3,600 a month and council members get a boost to $2,000 a month. Today, they all are struggling to make ends meet on a mere $800 a month.
"Let me see if I understand," said one man at the supermarket. "The city doesn't have enough money to pay for more police officers and firefighters, but these guys can give themselves a big raise? Give me a break!"
Sure. It's all about politico logic.
Let me explain.
Remember that $117,000 I mentioned?
By itself, that's not enough money to cover ALL the costs associated with adding even one more new police officer or firefighter.
Nor will a piddling $117,000 cover ALL the costs associated with building or rebuilding city roads or sidewalks or alleys or parks or you name it.
So, give it to us, your faithful elected leaders. We can sure use some extra money.
A few hundred bucks more a month means we can attend more city functions, make more city-related telephone calls, spend more city-related time on our computers and help us cover more of our city-related car maintenance and insurance costs, all without digging deeper into our own pockets.
Consider the plight of Mayor Ridenour, who complained about all the hidden costs that come with holding public office.
"I do know one thing," he said. "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."
Councilman O'Bryant was more direct.
"If I turn my raise down," he said, "it's not going to fix ... contract negotiations, it's not going to hire any policemen and it's not going to fix the budget.
"When you look at the totality of the problems we have, this council raise is nothing."
Whatever happened to the concept of public service?
Didn't you guys realize, when you were busy raising tens of thousands of dollars to win election, that the job paid only $800 a month?
I mean, why would anyone spend $20,000, $50,000, $100,000 or more to win election to the Modesto City Council if not for a willingness to endure personal sacrifice for the privilege of serving the public?
Let's create a special city commission to advise members of the City Council on the best use of that troublesome $117,000 a year that won't fix anything.
I'll even throw in a few advisory suggestions of my own -- nonbinding, of course.
Use the money to buy bicycles that would be traded to commuters willing to part with their Chevy Suburbans.
Use the money to launch an "adopt a pothole" program.
Use the money to throw a big party, I mean BIG party, for all those hard-working Modesto taxpayers out there.
I'd settle for a couple of beers and a Philly cheese steak.
Mike Mooney's column appears every Friday in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2384.