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Vero Beach will vote in November on pay hike for City Council members

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of March 24, 2022)

Vero Beach voters will decide in November whether future mayors and City Council members should get a $175-per-month pay raise, starting with their next terms.

If approved, the mayor’s annual salary will increase 15.5 percent from $13,500 to $15,600, while City Council members’ annual salaries will jump 19.4 percent from $10,800 to $12,900.

The City Charter requires that such raises be approved by the voters.

“We just followed the Charter Review Committee’s recommendation,” Mayor Robbie Brackett said after the City Council unanimously agreed to put the proposed pay hikes on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“It hadn’t been done in years, and I believe it’s the right thing to do, but I’m glad the committee recommended relatively small increases,” he added. “Our pay should provide some compensation for our time, but it’s not supposed to be a livable wage.

“You take this job to give back and serve your community,” he said.

Two of Brackett’s mayoral predecessors who no longer serve on the City Council, Tony Young and Harry Howle, said they supported the pay increases.

Council members also qualify to enroll themselves, their spouses and dependents in the city’s employee health plan during their time in office, a benefit that’s helped attract self-employed people and younger retirees who are not old enough for Medicare.

Both Young and Howle expressed hope that the salary raises might encourage more Vero residents – particularly younger people with full-time jobs and families – to make the time commitment necessary to serve on the City Council.

“From a practical point of view, the amount of focus and energy the City Council puts in warrants a raise,” Young said. “Governing in Vero Beach is a multi-level operation. It’s not just going to meetings.

“There’s the airport, marina, the police department, water and sewer, recreation and all the other departments,” he added. “And you also have to interact with news media and the public.

“I don’t see the salary increase as any encumbrance on the public, and while you don’t serve for financial reasons, it might actually help in recruiting more candidates for the council.”

Even with the monthly raises, Howle said, the job demands considerably outweigh the salaries.

He said he actually sacrificed potential income from his full-time job as a risk management specialist and partner at the Gottzmann Insurance Group to serve on the City Council.

“I was not making as much as I could, even with the supplement from being a council member, because of the time I lost at work,” Howle said. “Anybody who tells you it’s just a part-time job isn’t telling you the truth.

“No, you don’t do it for the money, but if you consider the time and energy you invest, $10,000 for a council member and $13,000 for a mayor doesn’t cut it,” he added. “That’s not much more than a stipend.”

And that’s why, Howle said, younger people are unwilling – or unable – to make such a commitment.

“If you’re younger, married with kids and a job, you might want to serve, but it’s impossible because of the time commitment,” Howle said. “So you’re essentially ruling out a whole group of people.

“Instead, you end up with a lot of older and retired people on the City Council,” he added, “because they’re not working and they have the free time needed to devote themselves to the job.

“Think about it: What’s the average age of our City Council?”

Currently, it’s 73.2.

The Nov. 8 ballot also will include referendums asking Vero Beach voters to approve reviewing the City Charter every eight years and increasing the salaries of the mayor and City Council members whenever non-union city employees receive pay raises.

Brackett said he endorsed the proposal because the City Council would no longer endure decade-long stretches without raises.

Among the other potential changes to the charter on the Nov. 8 ballot will be the fate of the so-called Three Corners property at Indian River Boulevard and 17th Street, north of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge.

City voters will be asked to decide whether to allow commercial development on the property, which the City Council hopes will become a waterfront social, dining and recreation hub.