The possibility of the Santa Rosa City Council receiving a pay boost passed its first hurdle on Tuesday, July 12, as the body voted 5-2 to draft a resolution calling for a compensation increase to be placed on the November ballot.
The resolution will then go before the city council again for approval.
After much discussion and debate, the council decided on going with the recommendation from a city charter review committee to ask voters to approve raises based on the area median income for a household of three.
The mayor would receive the full amount, or $101,500, and council members would receive two-thirds of that, at $66,990. If enacted, the new pay structure would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025.
Currently, the mayor receives $14,400 annually and the council members receive $9,600 annually.
The Santa Rosa proposal was inspired by Berkeley’s Measure JJ, a ballot item passed in 2020 which ties council members’ compensation to the median income in Alameda County. The measure was approved with support from nearly 65% of Berkeley voters.
A few council members pointed out that such a drastic jump might not go over well with the voting public. Council member John Sawyer noted that people are “shocked” when they learn how little he makes, but added that hearing about a $100,000 salary would be “equally as shocking.”
“Too rich for my blood,” he said, as one of two council members voting no on the motion to draft the resolution. “I don’t know how one would defend $100,000.”
Many compromises were considered. Mayor Chris Rogers suggested that council members make 50% of what county supervisors make, which is $161,000. That would give the mayor roughly $80,000 and council members around $53,000.
Council member Dianna MacDonald, who also voted no on the draft resolution, suggested using Sonoma County household income numbers pulled from the “extremely low” to “very low” range, or 50 and 30% of the median income. That would be $53,500 for the mayor in the very low range and $32,100 in the extremely low range, with council members receiving two-thirds of that amount. She saw these options as more “palatable” to the community.
City Attorney Sue Gallagher agreed that the council could use different metrics from the income averages, such as instead of going with the median income of a family of three, the council could do the median for a household of one. Or, the council could use low- to very low-income numbers instead of the median.
Council member Natalie Rogers voted for the committee’s recommendation. She explained why she thinks the proposed compensation is important.
“It allows for the council to be diverse; it allows for different people from different walks of life,” Rogers said.
The current pay makes it hard for people to serve without being penalized in other parts of their life, she added.
The charter review committee had recommended the raises to “enable a greater diversity of membership,” such as people with young families, those with lower paying occupations and those without an independent means of wealth.
Among the council members who voted yes on the draft resolution, many said that the charter review committee put in a lot of the legwork to reach the recommendation and that the council should heed their findings. Vice Mayor Eddie Alvarez said the council should listen to the committee and then let the voters decide.
The draft resolution will return to the council at the next council meeting on July 26.