Big problem with pay raise is timing

C lovis faces a few financial challenges this year –
along with a monkey wrench its commissioners
created.
Among the city’s priorities are staff raises, particularly police and firefighters seeking wage hikes they say better meet what other cities and agencies pay. Then there’s a proposed pipeline to pump water from Ute Lake near Logan over the next decade; Clovis’ share will be at least $15 million. Plus there are street and drainage improvements that are even more critical now that Clovis is in one of its best growth cycles ever.
City Manager Ray Mondragon and other leaders hoped to find money to pay for the capital projects by pushing a quarter-percent gross-receipts tax increase at the March city election. In turn, that would free up General Fund capital dollars to use for pay and personnel.
That ‘s where the monkey wrench comes in.
On Jan. 8, two months before they’re asking voters for a gross-receipts tax hike, commissioners voted themselves and the mayor a $2,000 annual raise.
They need to rescind that 5-3 vote now. If they don’t, we believe the tax measure has little or no chance of passage in March.
Who could blame voters? Many are fed up with the “me-first” attitude.
It matters not that this proposed raise would still leave our elected city leaders’ pay well behind their Curry County counterparts, or that the last raise they gave themselves was in 1986. What matters is timing: City leaders cry and wring their hands about critical projects and the lack of enough money to do them, then audaciously vote themselves a raise a few weeks later.
It matters not that the city commissioners’ vote only boosts their annual pay to $7,000 and the mayor’s to $8,000.
It matters not that it goes into effect in March only for newly elected officials, and holdovers won’t get the raise until 2006.
It matters not that they spend their own money on public business and their time commitment is considerable.
What matters is they cried wolf, looked in their own wallets and changed their tune.
If you haven’t objected to their pro-raise votes yet, let City Commissioners Gloria Wicker, Gordon Smith, Robert Sandoval, Catherine Haynes and Isidro Garcia know you believe they were wrong and should resurrect the pay matter and change their vote.
Don’t forget to tell Commissioners Kevin Duncan, Juan Garza and Lunell Winton thank you for voting against this raise, and ask them to help overturn the Jan. 8 vote.
It’s possible. All it takes is to switch one vote from yes to no and it’s a 4-4 tie. The mayor, who only votes in case of a tie, becomes the tiebreaker. Clovis Mayor David Lansford, who is up for re-election, has said he opposes the raises at this time. Give him the opportunity to prove it.
Smith, Wicker and Sandoval aren’t likely to switch sides. They’ve tried to defend their actions in recent days with some disturbing statements.
Smith, the outgoing mayor pro-tem who isn’t seeking re-election, wrote in a letter to the editor: “No one was at the meeting to oppose the increase at the introduction or adoption of the increase, so why complain now?”
Just because taxpayers trust public officials to act responsibly, with little oversight, doesn’t mean they approve the abuse of authority. They can complain anytime they wish, before or after any vote.
Sandoval and Wicker have told us the pay hike totals only $18,000 — a blip on the budget that won’t impact major projects.
Careful with that attitude, commissioners. That total is more than many Clovis households see in a year. Treating public tax dollars like loose pocket change makes most taxpayers nervous.
As for the matter of going 18 years without a raise and the hours involved, we say: You knew the pay and time commitment when you ran for public office.
Besides, it’s been almost that long since the city’s zoo had an elephant on display. Does that mean the commission should vote to buy an elephant just because it’s been a long time since we’ve had one?
While it’s natural for commissioners to feel they deserve a salary hike, maybe even one that matches every raise city employees receive, we would argue the city might review other ways to prevent commissioners from spending their own money on city business.
Several points are worth debating. But do so later, a respectable time period after what is shaping up as a critical March election. Let voters decide the quarter-percent issue without the emotional baggage of public leaders giving themselves a raise in the midst of questions over what to pay public safety employees.
Sandoval, Wicker and Smith seem unlikely to change their minds on this issue. Wicker said Saturday morning: “You’ve got a better chance of seeing the Statue of Liberty do the hula hula than seeing me back off my vote.”
We can all appreciate such candor, but not the attitude these words belie. Let’s hope at least one commissioner will come to their senses and vote to rescind the pay measure.
Clovis has many pressing financial needs. City commissioners’ pay is not one of them.