What do council members make in SLO County?

January 20, 2014
John Ashbaugh

John Ashbaugh

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Some part-time city council members and mayors in San Luis Obispo County earn high compensation rates for the hours they work.

The top earners among council members in the county received approximately $27,000 to $30,000 in total compensation in 2013. San Luis Obispo Councilman John Ashbaugh received the highest compensation of $29,768.92. Paso Robles Mayor Duane Picanco received the second highest total of $28,006.96, followed by Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham, who received $27,120.52.

When asked about his pay, Ashbaugh said he has argued for reductions in council compensation and will oppose any recommended increases.

“I don’t do this to get rich,” Ashbaugh said. “I don’t take all that I’m entitled to.”

Ashbaugh said his compensation is higher than other council members because he does not have the ability to receive health insurance through a spouse’s plan.

Paso Robles Mayor Picanco, like the other mayors and city council members in San Luis Obispo County, serves part time. In addition to presiding over council meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, he serves on regional boards.

A CalCoastNews inquiry shows that Picanco received about $297 an hour in 2013 for his participation at meetings. Picanco spent about 94 hours in meetings of the Paso Robles council, the San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission and the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority.

Picanco is one of a number of city council members and mayors in San Luis Obispo County whose hourly pay reaches into the $150 to $300 range. Picanco did not respond when asked to comment.

Higginbotham earned about $255 per hour for approximately 106 hours of participation in government meetings. In addition to serving as a member of the Pismo Beach council, Higginbotham sits on the San Luis Obispo Council of Government, San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority, San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC) and South County Transit Board.

“Thank you for letting me know,” Higginbotham said when asked for a comment on her pay.

Ashbaugh earned about $164 per hour for his participation in meetings. He spent approximately 182 hours attending meetings in 2013. In addition to sitting on the San Luis Obispo City Council, Ashbaugh served on boards for the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo County Water Resources Advisory Committee and HSOC.

Mayors and council members receive pay in the form of salaries and customized benefit packages, consisting mostly of health benefits. Many council members forego some or all benefits, but others double or even triple their pay by accepting generous benefit packages. Council members that belong to certain regional boards also receive stipends from the respective agencies for participation in meetings.

CalCoastNews determined the total compensation of council members by adding their salary, benefit and stipend totals. Salary and benefits, which comprise the majority of council member pay are exact numbers obtained from the individual cities. Stipend totals from participation in regional boards are in some cases estimations based on the number of meetings council members appear to have attended.

CalCoastNews determined the hourly rates of the top earners by dividing total compensation by the number of hours they spent in council and regional board meetings. The calculations do not include hours spent outside of official city and regional meetings. In the case of some regional board meetings, the hour tallies are estimations.

On average, Paso Robles council members earned the most in the county. Paso Robles councilmen earned more than $25,000 on average with little variation in pay. Each councilman in Paso Robles received more than $200 an hour for his participation in meetings.

Grover Beach council members earned the least pay in the county. Each member of the Grover Beach council, with the exception of Councilman Glenn Marshall, received at total of $3,875.40 in salary and benefits. Including board stipends, only Mayor Debbie Peterson earned more than $5,000.

Marshall elected not to take any pay from the city. He was the only council member countywide not to receive financial compensation for his position.

Atascadero, like Grover Beach, pays its council members annual salaries of $3,600. Only Mayor Tom O’Malley opted to take health benefits in 2013, boosting his total pay to $12,170.50.

Morro Bay Councilwoman Nancy Johnson was the only council member in the county to cash out benefits. Johnson received $5,153.56 in cash for unused health coverage, nearly doubling her paycheck. She did so despite voting in November to eliminate the Morro Bay policy allowing council members to cash out unused health benefits.

Each member of the Morro Bay council received a total compensation in the $11,000 to $14,000 range.

Other councils, though, had sizable differences in pay among their members.

While Ashbaugh earned $29,768.92, San Luis Obispo Councilman Dan Carpenter received $11,410.96. Carpenter foregoes the majority of benefits offered, including a CalPERS retirement contribution. The other members of the San Luis Obispo council receive annual CalPERS contributions of between $2,000 and $4,000, paid for by the city.

The Pismo Beach council had three members make more than $20,000 and two receive less than $12,000 in 2013 total pay.

Higginbotham earned $27,120.52, but Pismo Beach Councilman Ed Waage received only $10,897.92. Both Waage and Councilman Kris Vardas elected not to take health insurance, while Higginbotham, Councilwoman Mary Ann Reiss and Councilman Erik Howell each received more than $10,000 in health benefits from Pismo Beach.

In Arroyo Grande, former councilwoman Caren Ray earned more than Mayor Tony Ferrara and Councilman Tim Brown combined, despite giving up her seat in October. Ray earned nearly $17,000 from Arroyo Grande in 2013, even though she left the council to join the Board of Supervisors.

Councilman Joe Costello had the highest pay among Arroyo Grande council members. He received $22,482 in total compensation.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx received the highest salary, $14,404, among council members in the county. Marx’s compensation for the year totaled $20,033.90. She did not take medical coverage but received nearly $6,000 in retirement contributions and board meeting stipends.

 


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mbactivist1

I found something else related to the article content regarding Nancy Johnson and the cashing in of unused Morro Bay City Council medical plan dollars.


As mentioned in my earlier post, in the November 13 Council minutes was this “In 2010, the City Council passed Resolution No. 28-10 which included an amendment that provides the Mayor and Council members any unexpended money back from their funds allocated but not spent for the cost of the lowest HMO or PPO medical plan.


I looked at the agenda for the June 14, 2010 Council meeting and found this:


“B-2 DISCUSSION AND ADOPTION OF THE 2010/11 FISCAL YEAR OPERATING BUDGETS; (ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES) RECOMMENDATION: Adopt Resolution No. 28-10 accepting the budget as presented and/or with any amendments made at the meeting.”


Evidently, Resolution No. 28-10 was the resolution to pass the budget. So, it appears that the 2010 action that gave the Council the benefit of being able to cash in those unused medical plan dollars was hidden in plain sight – somewhere in the budget – a big, cumbersome document that few people read. It makes me wonder what else past Councils have hidden in those budgets.


Gordo

Very interesting story. I wonder how the city council seats differ from the board of supervisors in compensation and benefits.

I also wonder about what kind of perks these folks might be getting, such as using city/county resources for personal causes.

A lot of county resources, such as staff time, was spent last year for the Amgen bicycle race. How much staff time is being used on other events that have minimal benefits to the residents of our cities and county, but are of personal importance to our elected leaders?


Mr. Holly

What is O’Malley up to in Atascadero? He has collected an additional $8570.50 for health insurance. What’s peculiar with this is that he is retired from the county and probably is still part of their insurance program. Also his wife is a school teacher with the Atascadero School District where insurance coverage is also provided. $714.20 a month seems a little high, when you have no dependants at home,and when you may have access to 2 different insurance programs thru government benefits. What is he up to now? A master at working the system. Hats off to the balance of the city council for their honesty and integrity wit this issue.

Maybe when Kelly Gearhart gets back to town we will find out more about some of the actions of Mr. O’Malley.


SLOBIRD

He. Probably has some of his staff from the Casazza listed as dependents or maybe the grand kids. Interesting catch that he is claiming the insurance benefit. Would like to see that paperwork.


vmmill42

County retirees get a stipend toward purchasing private insurance. It is about $100.00 per month I believe. They do not get continued health benefits as retirees.


OnTheOtherHand

No matter what their “official” hours are, any local government rep should spend at least the same amount of time gathering information, meeting with constituents and otherwise preparing for meetings. If they are not then, politics and competence aside, they aren’t doing their jobs.


I wonder if any of them receive transportation benefits — use of city vehicle or reimbursement for their use of their own and costs of public transportation to the occasional meeting elsewhere? Are these counted as compensation or written off as expenses?


Finally, does the big disparity in income have any effect on their voting tendencies. Do those receiving little (or at least less) try to make up for it in other ways? Are those who get paid well doing the job for the money as much or more than from any devotion to public service?


SLOBIRD

They do get auto allowance…


1inthemiddle

That certainly is not the case in most cities. I’m not sure where the auto allowance is provided. As with any business, travel for out of the area meetings does come with mill age reimbursement but that is very different than an auto allowance


falconbh

Sure would like to see the pay of Community Services Directors and General Managers.


Then maybe a comparison with comparable size districts in Central California.


Asking a lot, but with this Big New Fire Tax being shoved down our throats, I sure would like to see what Pismo Beach and other cities using CalFire are paying.


Do we really need three stations for the small communities of Arroyo Grande,Grover beach, AND Oceano ? Sure looks like a political move by Five Cities Fire/Union/Consultant to keep local support and raise taxes on some of the most disadvantaged communities in the county.


1inthemiddle

Three stations serving 30,000 people and out of city county areas seems very reasonable. It’s all based on response time and to hear the fire people tell it we are no at recommended levels as it is


Stunned

Geez, I thought these folks were bringing in some bucks. If you factor in travel and prep for meetings, emails, returned calls and all the etc stuff they’re not making a whole ton of money in my opinion!


SLOBIRD

This is nota fully I,e job. Many of them participate at a minimal others swallow in the public benefits… Tickets to wine tasting, performances, chamber events, etc. they also get lots of gifts with the public donations and benefits. They choose to run for office and contribute. Ten years ago council members were full time employees, students, or retires. We have even had housewives or plain ole concerned citizens. Cities pay the City Managers , assistant managers and City Attorneys lots of money and benefits to run our cities. Don’t run for office if you want a job with retirement benefits.


1inthemiddle

No, it’s not a full time job for sure but it does not pay that way either. The actual paycheck in most cites is very minor, a few hundred a month. The health benefit is a great perk and it brings good people to office. I have never spoke to anyone who includes health benefit in calculating there hourly wage. That is certainly misleading.

Today council members are still full time employees, retirees, and house wives. No change there.

I doubt the suggestion that many participate minimally. My observation is the opposite case is true. If in fact some are phoning it in then they should be voted out.


1inthemiddle

Great info, thanks. Could use a better break down to show the amounts of each type of recorded or assumed compensation.

You should post a table with all the councilmen, not just a select few.

Of coarse the hourly wage is misleading as the prep work for each of these meetings can easily take 2 to 4 times as long as the meeting. Then there are the many cases of having to represent the city at various functions. Then you add conversations, emails, phone calls, etc with constituents and the hours can really add up.


mbactivist1

I thought this item in the story was interesting:


“Morro Bay Councilwoman Nancy Johnson was the only council member in the county to cash out benefits. Johnson received $5,153.56 in cash for unused health coverage, nearly doubling her paycheck. She did so despite voting in November to eliminate the Morro Bay policy allowing council members to cash out unused health benefits.”


So, I checked out the agenda for the November 12, 2013 Council meeting and found this:


“In 2010, the City Council passed Resolution No. 28-10 which included an amendment that provides the Mayor and Council members any unexpended money back from their funds allocated but not spent for the cost of the lowest HMO or PPO medical plan. The City designates that each councilmember receive a prescribed amount of dollars to purchase a medical plan. This cash back practice was also enjoyed by City employees in prior years, but during the significant budget reductions in or around 2005, this practice was discontinued. The issue was brought forward by a concerned employee that recognized the inconsistency in the current practice, the employee sent a correspondence to the Councilmembers and as a result, Councilmember Nancy Johnson brought the item forward for consideration.”


Also in the agenda was this:


“The City, at their October 8, 2013 City Council meeting, unanimously agreed to amend the language in the City Council Policies and Procedures Manual and end the practice that currently allows Council members from receiving any unexpended monthly dollars from the cost of their medical plan. As a result, staff recommends the following amendment to the Council Policies and Procedures Manual, Section 2.2”


Fascinating. As Mr. Friedman said, Ms. Johnson voted to eliminate this practice; yet she did it herself.


Kevin Rice

>>Ashbaugh said his compensation is higher than other council members because he does not have the ability to receive health insurance through a spouse’s plan.


I find this difficult to believe, given her prominent government job.