Miami-Dade County

Should Miami-Dade commissioners make $100,000 a year? Voters may decide ... again.

Miami-Dade County commissioners during a 2015 meeting. Their salary is $6,000 now but would rise to nearly $100,000 under a proposed amendment to the Miami-Dade charter.
Miami-Dade County commissioners during a 2015 meeting. Their salary is $6,000 now but would rise to nearly $100,000 under a proposed amendment to the Miami-Dade charter. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Miami-Dade may try again to give its commissioners a significant raise and pay the 13 elected officials nearly $100,000 a year.

That’s a whopping increase from the current $6,000-a-year stipend — a 1,566 percent raise, actually. That level of full-time compensation would bring Miami-Dade in line with other local governments, but it’s also the kind of pay hike that county voters have rejected in the past.

Voters might have a chance again: A panel appointed by the county commission to recommend changes to the Miami-Dade charter is urging commissioners to put a salary-increase amendment on the November ballot as part of a larger rewrite aimed at reform.

“My personal opinion is it’s long overdue,” said Michael Valdes-Fauli, a Miami marketing executive and member of the charter-review board. “If you’re a county commissioner, you’re overseeing a $7 billion budget. How can you earn $6,000 a year?”

A draft final report from Miami-Dade’s Charter Review Task Force recommends a $99,997 commission salary, along with eliminating commission term limits approved by voters in 2012 but set to take effect in 2020 when the first batch of commissioners would be forced to leave office.

The pay recommendation got muddied Monday night, when the task force voted to recommend a competing proposal seen as more politically viable. Rather than let voters approve commissioner salaries, the charter would be amended to create a three-person panel that would set the pay for commissioners and the mayor each year.

The proposal came from Commissioner Dennis Moss, who had backed a failed request by Mayor Carlos Gimenez to boost his own compensation from $150,000 to $302,000 a year. In December, commissioners blocked the mayor’s request, which would have undone a pay cut Gimenez imposed on himself shortly after taking office in 2011.

Under the Moss plan, appointees by Florida’s governor, the Miami-Dade clerk of court and the county’s chief judge would set the commission and mayor salaries at whatever level they wanted. Members of the charter board said the proposal was appealing since there wouldn’t be an actual compensation number to anger voters.

“The sticker shock remains,” said Alice Burch, a review-board member who also sits on the Miami Shores village council. “This takes it out of the realm of the voter needing to think it’s going to be that incredible difference [between $6,000 and $99,997]. Maybe it won’t be. Maybe it will be $50,000.”

Miami-Dade voters last rejected a pay hike in 2011, when the commission forwarded a proposal to tie a raise to $92,000 with term limits. The following year, voters approved a stand-alone amendment on term limits, restricting future commissioners to a pair of four-year terms.

Those rules are only now forcing exits for sitting commissioners, with six incumbents reelected in 2016 required to leave in 2020 and another six up for reelection in office looking at mandatory exits in 2022. (A 13th commissioner, former chairman Joe Martinez, returned to the 13-member board in 2016 and doesn’t have to step down until 2024.)

Commissioners actually make much more than $6,000. Adding in car stipends and other cash perks, most report annual compensation of about $40,000 from the county. The original charter-review proposal doesn’t set a salary for commissioners; instead, it adopts a state formula based on a county’s population and other factors to establish what elected officials should earn. If applied under current conditions, Miami-Dade commissioners would make $99,997.

That’s what Broward and Palm Beach commissioners make now, plus various perks and benefits. Both counties use the state formula for compensation. Miami-Dade commissioners convene meetings at the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown Miami. A few miles south in Coconut Grove, Miami city commissioners meet at the waterfront City Hall building and earn about $58,000 in salary and roughly $100,000 with all perks and benefits included.

Will the county proposal for higher commission salaries actually make it to voters? That would require legislation by the County Commission itself. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava sponsored the legislation that convened the task force, and said she has first crack at introducing the resolutions needed to put task force recommendations before voters.

On Monday, Levine Cava said she would back a compensation proposal if it seemed viable, and that she could draft something that changes the details in the panel’s recommendation to make it more palatable.

“I think compensation is a difficult topic for the public, which has repeatedly voted against increasing the commission salaries out of lack of trust for how the commission performs,” she said. “I would have to be persuaded there is an audience for this.”

Other recommendations from the panel include asking voters to make it easier for citizens to petition for changes to the county charter and making the clerk of the court a nonpartisan post. The office of mayor and county commission already are decided with nonpartisan primaries.

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