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Council to consider pay raise referendum

By Staff | Jun 9, 2020

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello believes that to get better people to run for local office, council seats must be recognized as a full-time job, with pay commensurate to the commitment.

To that end, Cape Coral City Council will hold a special meeting on Monday, June 29, to consider a yet-to-be-written ordinance to place a referendum on the ballot that would substantially increase the pay for the mayoral and council seats.

Compensation would be determined by population.

Assuming a population of 180,000 and a rate of 38 cents per resident for mayor and 31 cents for council members, the mayor would make $68,400, while the council members would earn $55,800 per year.

Currently, the mayor earns $38,492 annually, while council members make $34,834 per year.

Five years ago before a previous referendum, council members made $17,000.

Coviello said that the demographics have changed in the city. The largest population sector is between 25 and 45 years old, which is where the future leaders of the city are, he added.

Coviello also said the pay for the job is not commensurate to what other elected officials make in lake-sized cities.

“We’re not attracting future leaders. I believe more pay will spur interest. The mayor in Tallahassee makes as much as a county commissioner ($78,000). In Fort Lauderdale, the pay for mayor and council will double next year,” Coviello said.

Even in Naples, a city of 22,000, the mayor makes $50,000 and council members $40,000, he added.

Only Councilmember Jessica Cosden, elected five years ago when the annual compensation was $17,000, is the only council member in the age demographic cited by Coviello. She said what she is paid now is still not enough to support a family and that, as the city grows, the need for professional council members is becoming a necessity.

“When I ran, I made $17,000 and I knew that going in. We got raises that year and I was grateful, but putting my kids on city insurance is half my pay,” Cosden said. “I would love to do this job full time, but I can’t.”

Councilmember John Gunter said it is time for the city to decide if it wants full-time council members making full-time pay.

“We’re giving full-time work on a part-time salary. The salaries could be doubled compared to other cities. This is a full-time job now,” Gunter said. “Monday nights are the easy part. There’s a lot of work that goes into the it.”

If council decides to bring the matter to the voters, the referendum would be placed on the General Election ballot in November.

It would have to be submitted to the Supervisor of Elections Office by July 6.

That means council would have to introduce the ordinance at next Monday’s meeting on June 15, then convene a special meeting on June 29 to approve the ballot language of the ordinance to be crafted for the meeting.

With the possibility of council members being on vacation, one concern is making a quorum. While members can participate remotely, five have to be present in council chambers.

There were other concerns as well.

Councilmember John Carioscia wondered if this is the right time to ask for a raise.

“We have unemployment at almost 20 percent. I don’t think it’s wise to do this right now because we may not have the revenues,” Carioscia said.

Councilmember Rick Williams expressed concern about using the number of residents to determine salary.

The ordinance voters approved in 2015 provided that council members would receive an annual salary of $32,600 and the mayor $36,600, with a cost-of-living adjustment beginning in January 2017.

Previously, City Council members were paid according to the number of registered voters. The mayor was paid 20 cents per voter, while council members received 17 cents.

Officials in 2015 also argued that more money would open the field to better-qualified candidates, and that a full-time workload should be compensated with compensation that recognized that.

The referendum passed with just over 53 percent of the vote.