Berkeley council members consider asking voters for a salary increase

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Despite a recently released report revealing that Berkeley City Council is one of the highest paid in the state, several council members are considering asking voters for a salary increase this fall.

Council members are paid $31,464 annually while the mayor earns $50,604, although he elects not to receive his pay, according to a survey from the city manager’s office. These amounts are adjusted each year for inflation, but neither position has seen a significant pay increase since 1998.

By contrast, in the nearby city of Concord, which has a slightly larger population than Berkeley, council members earn just $15,600 a year.

Still, Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Gordon Wozniak intend to propose a possible ballot measure for November’s election that would substantially increase council members’ and the mayor’s salaries. Though council members can propose salary increases, their proposals still have to go through Berkeley voters in order to update the city charter, which stipulates their pay.

“Many cities don’t pay their council members very much, and it is a part-time job for them,” Wozniak said. “But in Berkeley, because we have a very active citizenry on many issues, it’s a much more demanding job than other cities of comparable size.”

Wozniak, elected to the council in 2002, says his position used to be a part-time job but over the years has grown more time-consuming as constituents increasingly expect more services. According to Wozniak, the council is only compensated for around eight to 10 hours of work per week, although he said most members work more than that.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who said he works 60 to 80 hours a week, suggested one way to increase salaries would be to pay council members by the hour so that those who put in more time to the job are compensated fairly.

In order to support themselves, many council members also have additional sources of income; Councilmember Darryl Moore works for the Oakland Housing Authority, and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli is also a real estate agent. Wozniak said he and other council members collect retirement benefits.

Arreguin, who works full-time as a council member, argues that their salary does not reflect the cost of living in the Bay Area and is a barrier to diversity on the council, as those without other sources of income cannot support their families with such low wages. He said he took a 50-percent pay cut from his job as a council aide to join the council in 2008.

“It is a challenge; I live with roommates and have to scrape and save to live in Berkeley, which has an incredibly high cost of living,” Arreguin said. “We should be paid a salary that reflects the work we put in.”

Contact Kathleen Tierney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @kathleentierney.