The two-tier pay schedule for members of the Vernon City Council could come up for review at the council’s next meeting, following the council’s approval Tuesday of a motion by Mayor Pro-Tem William Davis that asks staff to come up with a resolution to reduce the salary of the two highest paid members of the council, thereby equalizing the salary paid to all council members
The largess of city council salaries became a big issue during efforts to disincorporate Vernon in 2011. To help stave off disincorporation, Vernon officials agreed to make several changes in how it operates, including acting more transparently and ethically.
As part of its reform effort, the council voted in 2011 to reduce council salaries from $68,052 to $25,000 and to eliminate health benefits. The salary reduction was to take place at the end of each of the then sitting council member’s current term.
There have, however, been new members elected to the council since that change was approved, and it doesn’t sit well with them or Davis that two long-time city officials are being paid twice as much as the new council members, Michael Ybarra and Luz Martinez. Davis’s term ended shortly after the pay change was made, which quickly resulted in his salary being cut.
Davis has been trying to get the council to take up the salary issue since his reelection in April, only to have the matter repeatedly continued to another date. Davis said council members in other cities, residents, and workers have asked him why the city’s part-time elected officials receive different salaries.
Currently, Davis, Martinez and Ybarra each receive $2,083 a month, or nearly $25,000 annually. Councilmember Richard Maisano and Mayor McCormick each receive $4,650 a month or nearly $56,000 a year, an amount lower than the $68,052 council members were paid at the height of the disincorporation battle.
“Why should other council members be different when all of us have the same responsibility,” Davis said during the June 4 council meeting.
“We don’t want the city of Vernon to become like the city of Bell,” he said, referring to the high salaries that Bell officials were paid when a corruption scandal broke.
Davis, McCormick and Maisano were all on the council when the salary reduction decision was made. McCormick and Maisano are not scheduled to see a pay cut until their terms end in two years.
Davis said Vernon’s poor financial situation is another valid reason for speeding up the salary cuts, which would cut the city’s expenses by $50,000 annually.
The city significantly reduced its budget deficit during the 2012-2013 fiscal year when it began with a $12 million dollar deficit. Since then it had made sold part of its water rights for a one-time payment of $6 million, passed business tax measures in April that will bring in around $8 million annually and created a retirement incentive that will bring in $8 million in the next five years.
McCormick tried to table the discussion indefinitely at Tuesday’s meeting, but his motion failed for lack of a second. When asked by Davis why he would make such a motion, the mayor had no response.
According to the city clerk, the resolution will be brought back to council for consideration at its next meeting, set for June 25.
Councilmember Ybarra told EGP that he agrees with Davis’ the motion and believes that the council will vote to bring down the higher salaries.
“It should have been done sooner,” Ybarra said. “In hindsight, we should have progressively reduced salaries over years.”
Vernon’s Reform Monitor John Van De Kamp had repeatedly advised the council to bring their salaries in line with the “mainstream” of other cities.
“Lets make the city of Vernon a city that other cities follow,” Davis said.