Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mayor, Councilors To Get Pay Raise After Next Election

By John Larson
SOCORRO – The next four city councilors to be elected, or re-elected, will be the first beneficiaries of a new pay scale passed Monday night at the Socorro City Council meeting.
The monthly compensation for councilors will be $1,050 and $1,700 for the mayor.
Mayor Dr. Ravi Bhasker said the process for the city council to make changes in salary structure “really falls to the city council.”
“State legislators pass on county commissioners’ raises,” Bhasker said. “It should be noted that these changes will not occur until after the next election cycle and will not apply to those who are still on the council. Then after two more years, the next four council seats will be up for election. Then those raises will go into effect. The last time we did this was four or five years ago.”
The next mayoral election will be in March 2010.
Before the final vote was taken Monday, a public hearing was held for comments from anyone in attendance.
Socorro resident Virginia Chang told the council she was not for or against the ordinance, but was looking for justification.
“The first thing that came to mind was that in these economic times, I don’t really see there should be a raise,” Chang said. “Others in the community have stopped giving pay raises. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The city councilors will get a 30 percent pay increase. The mayoral pay raise is 42 percent. Asking for the justification sounds like I’m against the pay raise, but I’m not necessarily against it.”
Chang said: “Most on the council have other employment. This would be considered part-time work more than an elected office. How do we justify that amount of money in terms of the number hours of work?”
Chang suggested the city use the money in other ways.
“Instead, invest it in good faith for the infrastructure of Socorro,” she said.
Councilor Peter Romero said he had been uncomfortable with the pay-raise issue and that most of the councilors serving are “not really in it for the money.”
Bhasker said if any councilor felt the money was not important, they could, in good faith, return to the city any salary they have been paid for being a councilor. He said the city needs good people to oversee its operation.
“I’m not sure if you understand the nature of this. In Socorro, we don’t have a city manager. Our clerk does most of what a manager would do. Our budget from the last five years has almost doubled to about $17 million,” Bhasker said. “We’re really basically a corporation that runs the city business. We run the gas company, water and sewers and the landfill.”
He said councilors have accomplished what they said they would do when they got elected.
“The city of Socorro has actually gained between 5 and 8 percent in gross receipts,” Bhasker said. “Fiscally, we are very safe and have done a lot of projects, but are very frugal. The councilors are the ones making these decisions for the residents of the city.”
He said the raise will attract quality candidates.
“They need compensation while they’re away from their jobs,” Bhasker said. “I think the councilors we have now are treating it like a job. They expend time doing it.”
“Our councilors have managed the money the best they could and run it like a corporation,” he said. “In these economic times, generally speaking, the city of Socorro is very well grounded and stable as far as economic stability is concerned.”
“To do this every four to five years is not bad. If we were having to lay off people, it would be different,” Bhasker said. “I spend about four hours a day in this ‘part-time’ job. For example, I will miss a whole day of work Thursday to go to Santa Fe to fight for the landfill.”
Councilor Michael Olguin Jr. said many people don’t know how much time councilors put in.
“In some people’s eyes, we’re just going to get more money, but the job is not just to come in for meetings on the first and third Mondays a month. Councilors work behind the scenes,” Olguin said. “I do city business when I take my lunch break and make myself available at all times. (The vote on this) is kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Councilor Chuck Zimmerly said he saw both pros and cons with it.
“When I first got on here, it was quite different. There’s been an awful lot more time required on the councilors,” Zimmerly said. “With that in mind, it won’t be a case of feathering a nest. I think it will help us bring better quality of people on the way up.”
The final vote was six for and two against. Councilors MaryAnn Chavez-Lopez and Romero voted “no.”

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