Proposed city ballot measure could cap city employee compensation

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A proposed ballot measure, filed March 28, will appear during November’s municipal elections, which, if passed, will authorize $50 million to city mental health and social services by limiting city employee compensation.

Known as the “Berkeley Social Services and Fiscal Accountability Ordinance,” the measure would cap all annual city employee compensation, including benefits, at $100,000. Resident taxes would not be raised in order to increase funding for social services, which could include affordable housing and alcohol and drug abuse counseling, among others.

The measure was drafted in tandem with CityHacker Labs, a local political think tank, which was founded by Vladislav Davidzon who authored the proposed ordinance.

In 2014, former city manager Christine Daniel was paid roughly $305,000, with 36 other city employees, including city attorney Zach Cowan and former city director of planning Eric Angstadt, paid more than $200,000 that year, according to documents accompanying the ballot measure.

Roughly $50 million would be saved from imposing such a limit on employee compensation, according to the ballot text.

Of the accrued funds, $10 million would be allocated to hiring social workers and mental health therapists to provide around-the-clock services for residents. City meal and housing services would receive $40 million funding in order to provide resources to those whose income falls below the poverty line determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Yet, setting a cap on employee compensation, especially during a time where city housing prices are “astronomical,” could be “ill-timed,” said campus associate professor of public policy Jane Mauldon.

By setting a cap on employee compensation could hinder the city’s ability to competitively attract experts to oversee certain departments, according to Mauldon.

“People interested in a career ladder would not be interested in a step ladder,” Mauldon said. “The city would be stuck with a relatively less-experienced staff.”

Municipal elections will take place Nov. 8.

Adrienne Shih is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adrienneshih.