Broward commissioners triple pay
Hallandale Beach commissioners on Wednesday voted to more than triple their salary.
BY ALIZA APPELBAUM AND JENNIFER LEBOVICH
Over a taxpayer-funded lunch of steak and chicken sandwiches on Wednesday, Hallandale Beach commissioners raised their annual pay by nearly $55,000 and catapulted themselves into the salary stratosphere for part-time public servants.
Starting immediately, commissioners will earn $75,000 a year.
In a tight budget year when the Legislature nixed raises for state employees, commissioners in the city of 35,000 voted 3-2 to more than triple their current salary of $21,196.
Discussion of the raise, and the vote, came during the luncheon portion of the city's regular meeting -- the only part that is not recorded. It will be reflected generally in the city's minutes, which had not yet been prepared on Thursday.
''I thought it was outrageous and completely out of line for an elected public official whose work is part time,'' said Mayor Joy Cooper, who asked commissioners to defer voting on the raise until the city's next budget meeting.
The raise means commissioners will make substantially more than the elected leaders in some of Broward's biggest cities.
Commissioners in Pembroke Pines -- a city of nearly 150,000 residents -- make $23,708, and the mayor gets $46,485.
And commissioners in Fort Lauderdale earn $30,000 a year, while the mayor gets $35,000.
Broward County commissioners bring in $91,996 a year to oversee an airport, a seaport, parks and libraries for a county of about 1.8 million.
''I'd like to get that kind of pay raise,'' said Ben Wilcox, the executive director of Common Cause Florida, a government watchdog group. ``If they feel like they're worth that. I guess the final decision will be up to the voters the next time they come up for reelection, if they feel like that's too big a pay raise.''
Cooper pointed out that the city could face significant revenue cuts in the coming year, depending on what form of property tax relief is passed by the state Legislature, which plans a special session in June.
''This is the absolute worst commission decision ever made in this city's history,'' said Cooper, who said she won't accept the increase.
Vice Mayor William Julian proposed the raise during the lunch planning meeting in a conference room in City Hall. The issue was not on any publicized agenda.
''If I was in their shoes I would bend over backward to make sure there was full notice and an opportunity for public discussion,'' said Wilcox. ``After all, this is the public's money and they should have, I would think, the opportunity to weigh in on whether they feel the commissioners deserve that increase.''
Voting in favor were Julian and commissioners Dorothy Ross and Francine Schiller. Cooper and Commissioner Keith London voted against it.
Julian said he had planned to propose an even higher increase. He likened the city to a corporation, and said the pay should be commensurate. He also praised the commission for lowering the tax rate and maintaining a healthy reserve fund.
''Other people in this position in the corporate world would be making much more money than we are,'' Julian said. ``It is a steep jump, but it just shows how little we received before. I don't think it's out of line at all.''
At the meeting, London suggested doing a comparison of salaries of elected officials in other cities before settling on a number.
''I wanted more information and the opportunity to do more research,'' he said in an interview. ``We didn't have enough information at that time to make a decision.''
Ross -- who has been on the commission since 1995 -- defended the raise Thursday, saying it's a job that calls for full-time hours. ''I'm experienced, I'm qualified, I'm trained and I'm worth it,'' she said.
Schiller declined to comment.
''I think that's an insane amount of money for a commission in a city our size,'' said Julie Hamlin, a Hallandale Beach resident who lost a bid for a commission seat during the last election.
''It's not responsible at a time when we have a property tax and insurance crisis in the state that is bound to impact our city tax structure,'' she said. ``It's totally crazy.''
When former Hallandale Beach Mayor Arthur ''Sonny'' Rosenberg got wind of the raise, he thought he had heard wrong.
''It's tough to comment on it because it's beyond belief,'' said Rosenberg, who served on the commission for more than two decades and said he made about $9,000 in 2000.
``I think they made a mockery out of public service, and I think Hallandale Beach is going to be the laughingstock of South Florida.''