Elk Grove City Council members gave themselves a 33 percent pay raise last week, joining a statewide debate about compensation for elected officials.
City councils and managers statewide have been under intense scrutiny after misappropriations of public money surfaced in the city of Bell in 2010, according to a report by the League of California Cities.
Elk Grove council members voted 4-1 Wednesday to give themselves a salary raise from $600 to $800 a month, citing a population increase.
Public protest at the meeting was lukewarm, but some council members defended the raise, saying they put in long hours and use vacation time to perform city duties.
"I get calls on weekends and evenings, and take time off from work to attend to city business," said Elk Grove council member Patrick Hume. "I'm not in this to get rich, but fair compensation is fair compensation."
Mayor Jim Cooper and council members Hume, Sophia Scherman and Steve Detrick voted in favor of the pay raise, while Gary Davis voted against it. Davis did not speak publicly about his dissent. The pay raise will take effect in December.
The previous salary was based on the city having a population of 75,000 to 150,000, and the option to raise council members' pay came when Elk Grove's population passed the 150,000 mark, said city attorney Jonathan Hobbs.
Eva Spiegel, communications director for League of California Cities, said city council members often sit on other local commissions and regional boards, sometimes while holding down another day job.
"It's considered a part-time job, but many council members put in well over 40 hours a week," she said.
Without salaries, it might be difficult for some people to serve on the council, she pointed out.
"The salaries paid to council members help make it possible for a wide range of individuals to serve on their city council, representing a larger diversity of a city's population," Spiegel said.
State code authorizes a city to provide its council members an initial salary of between $300 and $1,000 a month, depending on the city's population. After that, councils can increase their salaries by 5 percent a year, cumulatively, from the last bump in pay. A directly elected mayor can also receive more than other council members.
If a council is self-conscious about boosting its pay, it can place a measure in front of voters.
It's been eight years since the Elk Grove council's last raise, but this salary increase was directly tied to the population rise, with the idea that as the size of the constituency goes up, so do the duties and responsibilities of a council member, according to city officials.
Even though there are state codes governing city council pay, compensation is not uniform, even in the Sacramento region. And according to a 2011 study released by the League of California Cities, the area of health and welfare benefits is even more uneven.
"Particularly in the area of permissible health and welfare benefits, the various statutes that govern these matters form a nearly incomprehensible morass of ambiguous and seemingly contradictory provisions," writes San Pablo city attorney Brian Libow in a report for the league.
In the Sacramento region, there are slight differences in salaries for elected city officials, but the heavier, and more wide-ranging, costs are in health, vision and dental benefits. Typically, council members are eligible for health coverage, though some decline it. They may also pay some out-of-pocket expenses for health care.
Citrus Heights, with a population of 88,115, pays its council members $600 a month, according to the state controller's office. Council members also draw health benefits of up to $6,671 per person a year.
In Folsom, population 71,453, the council pay is $400 per month ($100 more for the mayor) while health coverage costs are $45,192 a year for the three council members electing to get coverage.
Rancho Cordova, population 66,093, pays council members $500 a month, and health coverage costs of up to $14,682 per person a year, with four out of the five opting to get coverage.
In Roseville, with a population of 115,781, council members draw a salary of $600 a month, while the mayor gets $650. No health coverage is provided.
And in Davis, with 66,570 residents, council pay is $669.50 per month, with up to $15,517 in annual health coverage costs per person.
Elk Grove offers anywhere from $650 to $1,654 per month for health care benefits for council members. According to a city spokesperson, four of the members have declined health coverage and receive $650 per month as a cash-in-lieu benefit. Members also receive a $100 monthly cellphone reimbursement.
Some cities also offer retirement benefits, and some require council members to kick in a portion of pension and health care benefits. Others offer council members life and disability insurance, tuition reimbursement and technology expense accounts.
In Sacramento, which has a population of more than 470,000, council members receive an annual salary of $60,800, while the mayor draws a salary of $116,646. They get a financial contribution toward a medical and dental plan; life insurance; retirement; long-term disability insurance; a vehicle allowance of $4,800 a year; an expense allowance of $2,500 a year; and a technology allowance of $1,200 a year.
At last week's Elk Grove City Council meeting, resident Hubert Lechner suggested members delay raising their salaries because of the tough economy, "to set an example."
And resident Nikki Carpenter called for a public disclosure of benefits compensation and expense accounts paid to council members.
She also noted that other cities in California about the same size as Elk Grove pay council members no more than $400 a month.
But council member Hume said he didn't think the salary raise would "make or break the city budget."
And Cooper said he uses vacation time from his job as a captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department to attend to city affairs.