Maricopa state of emergency

Mayor Christian Price, center, was joined by council members Rich Vitiello, from left, Henry Wade, Nancy Smith and Vincent Manfredi during a Facebook livestream in March as he declared a state of emergency in Maricopa.

MARICOPA — The biennial discussion of salaries for the Maricopa City Council and mayor were on the table at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

The council and mayor discussed the raise for nearly an hour, hearing input from constituents and departing members of the council.

City Manager Rick Horst opened the discussion with a reiteration of the breadth of responsibility involved in the council and mayoral roles and the time the role demands.

“I don’t think anyone understands what you do better than I do — the time that’s put in,” Horst said. “It’s my recommendation that you reconsider your salaries … not only for you, but more importantly for future opportunities for people coming forward to participate in this position.”

Horst recommended an increase to the mayor’s salary from $23,000 to $35,000 a year, a 52.1% increase. He also suggested the council’s yearly salary raise from $18,000 to $23,000, a 27.7% increase. This is not including the allowances given for phone, health insurance, city vehicle use, etc.

Maricopa resident Bryan Ott addressed the council, expressing his concerns over the large pay increase specifically to the mayor’s salary. He identified himself as a former longtime public servant who worked as the equivalent of a county commissioner in Pierce County, Washington.

“Having been in your position once myself, for almost 12 years … I think 30% is a little excessive,” Ott said. “A 52% increase for the mayor — wow, that’s gotta be hard to vote that for yourself. … I’m sorry to say that, but I think even if you gave yourself 15%, I think that would be agreeable to the public.”

Ott also commended the council for their decision to take a pay cut during the 2008 recession and for continuing to think decades ahead to accommodate city growth. Councilwoman Julia Gusse argued that, due to the pandemic, the same principle should be applied.

“I feel uneasy when the council gives their own salary increases,” said Gusse. “I feel uneasy not having a board, not having a committee, not having public input. … We don’t know what the future holds with (this) COVID situation. There are businesses going under, the unemployment rate has gone up tremendously.”

Vice Mayor Nancy Smith expressed support for a raise, stating that cities of a similar size paid their mayors more than what Mayor Christian Price is currently receiving. The mayor of Queen Creek for example, a city with a population of around 42,000, is currently earning $37,000 annually.

However, she and other council members stated they preferred a lower percentage increase than the one presented. Smith proposed an alternative compromise of $20,500 for council members and $30,000 for the mayor, which other council members voiced their support of.

Councilman Henry Wade Jr. echoed other council members’ sentiments when he said he is not there for the compensation, and his work is to support the community that supports him.

“Am I going to say that I don’t want to be paid for my time and my effort? No, that’s not what I’m suggesting,” said Wade. “What I’m suggesting is, if we’re doing a good job for the city, if we’re doing a good job for each other, then the compensation package that’s there should be respected as well as any adjustments that make common sense.”

Gusse, whose council term will end Dec. 1, broke down the council’s current earnings even further using her own pay as an example.

Gusse stated that, on top of the $18,000 base pay, council members receive a $1,200 auto allowance, a $900 cellphone reimbursement — if applicable — and around $1,200 in a health savings account. Gusse also stated that she receives an additional $14,000 in health care, totaling around $35,200 for the city to maintain her employment. She mentioned council members also receive benefits like the use of Copper Sky Recreation Center.

“What other part-time job would pay you, in benefits, $35,200?” Gusse said. “You’re absolutely right, we don’t get paid what we’re worth … but at the same time, I want you to take into consideration we don’t know what the future holds and we have so many businesses going under because of the pandemic.”

On the topic of benefits, the mayor used his previous car accident as an example of why the car allowance is given the way it is currently. Price said that shortly before his election to the mayoral role, the city voted to change the code from paying for the mayor’s mileage to offering a car allowance.

For the first six years of being on the council. Price said he drove his personal car religiously, at around 4,000 miles a month. He calculated that that mileage equated to around $27,000 in mileage, “now, that’s a chunk of change.”

“I was also on city business one day and I was hit while in my car, and it was a hit and run. So, guess who got to bear the brunt of that too? The city didn‘t fund my insurance increases, didn’t repair my car, didn’t deal with the car that I was without,” Price said. “When we ask our employees to go places, we don’t let them go in their personal cars because that’s against the liability policy.”

Price said he currently drives a city car as a result of recent changes, and that other council members can now use a city car as well. He also receives a $500 monthly stipend that equates to an additional $6,000 a year in income.

He rationalized that taking away this stipend and including it in the raise would offer hardly any increase to his actual yearly salary. Instead, he offered that the $6,000 be removed as a stipend, and instead be stipulated as part of the mayoral role that they should receive a city vehicle.

As part of his reasoning, Price echoed what many council members had said about the nature of their position in the public eye.

“This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. None of you go to the store without being in there for three and four hours, you never get away from it,” Price said. “I decided to answer the call of what I feel from the public, and that is: They demand full-time results, so I give them full-time. … I put in about 60 hours a week.”

At the suggestion of moving the car stipulation, Smith calculated that the mayor could receive a 20% raise from $23,000 to $27,600 and, with the added $6,000 in vehicle compensation, that would put his salary at $33,600. She also maintained the same proposal for the council members’ raises at 14%, or $20,500.

Smith then officially moved to approve this change in salary, with a stipulation that the mayor should receive a city vehicle for use and that these salary changes would fluctuate with the cost of living.

The council members voted 6-1 to approve, with Gusse voting no. Vincent Manfredi briefly deliberated before giving his yes vote.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.

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