Modesto council and mayor will get their first raise since 2008. Two members say it should be more

The Modesto City Council is poised to raise the pay for its members for the first time since 2008, but two members say the increases are not enough.

Councilmen Chris Ricci and Eric Alvarez said at Tuesday’s council meeting the compensation should be high enough that candidates from all economic walks of life can serve in representing a city of about 218,000 residents.

Modesto’s Citizens Salary Setting Commission is recommending the City Council increase the annual pay for council members from $24,000 to $30,000 and the mayor’s from $43,200 to $54,000. The city does not provide council members with health insurance.

“These recommendations feel really tone deaf to me,” Ricci said about the salary setting commission’s work. “It starts with a (City) Charter that assumes council members are part-time workers, which they aren’t, and limits pay in a way that I think is kind of irrelevant.”

“Thanks to these recommendations, we will continue to get professionals, retired people or people who don’t (need to) work” serving on the City Council, said Ricci, who is a partner with a digital marketing firm. “And the overwhelming majority of Modestans are out.”

Ricci said the worst recommendation was for the mayor, who he said works 12-hour days.

Alvarez, who has a hybrid job and does some of his work over Zoom, said he shared Ricci’s concerns. “It does limit the amount of folks who are interested in serving, who are interested in exercising their civic duty in running for office.”

Still, they were among the council’s 7-0 votes to accept the recommendations and to hold a May 14 public hearing to adopt an ordinance increasing the salaries in line with the salary setting commission’s recommendations.

The City Charter, which serves as an operating manual for the city, limits what the salary setting commission and council can do regarding council compensation.

The charter gives the council only two choices: It can accept the recommendations or set the compensation at lower amounts. A 2008 amendment to the charter approved by voters states council members can be paid no more than 50% of Modesto’s median family income, or $36,687.50, and the mayor no more than half of a Stanislaus Superior Court judge, or $114,648, according to the city.

Those are the maximums the commission could have recommended.

Council members and the mayor said in a previous story that being an elected official is a full-time job when adding up the hours spent on official and unofficial duties.

Ricci and Alvarez joined with other council members in thanking salary setting commission members for their work. The commission last met in 2014, though the City Charter states the commission shall meet every even-numbered year.

16 years since last pay raise

The last time the council received a raise was in 2008 when the compensation was increased from $9,600 for council members and the mayor to what it is today.

Salary Setting Commission Chairwoman Jan Viss presented the commission’s recommendations to the council. Viss said the commission considered such factors as what other cities pay.

There was a wide range of compensation. For instance, Stockton’s mayor is paid $90,480 to represent a city of about 320,000 residents while Bakersfield’s mayor is paid $32,112 to represent a city of about 411,000 residents, according to information provided by Modesto.

The city’s Equity Commission will continue to advocate for council members and the mayor to be paid a living wage to ensure that candidates from all socioeconomic backgrounds can run for office.

Equity Commission Chairwoman Lindsay Bird said in an interview Thursday that her commission is looking at whether it has to wait several years until the City Council appoints its next charter review committee that will consider new amendments or whether it can ask the City Council to ask voters to amend the charter to increase council salaries.

Bird said if the Equity Commission has to wait, that will give it time to build public awareness about the need for council members and the mayor to earn a living wage so more people can consider running for office.

She said that would include younger people who would bring a different perspective than someone who is retired or well-established in their own business. Bird said having a council that better reflects all of Modesto’s diversity will result in a more effective and responsive city government.