Miami Beach

Miami Beach voters reject $40,000 raise for city officials by a slim margin

Miami Beach City Commissioners asked voters for a raise. Voters said no.
Miami Beach City Commissioners asked voters for a raise. Voters said no.

Miami Beach’s elected officials are going to have to tighten their belts.

Voters rejected the City Commission’s request for a raise — which would have been the first salary increase in more than 50 years. Commissioner salaries were set at $6,000 in 1966 and haven’t changed, although elected officials do get other perks including pensions, a car allowance and a monthly stipend for expenses.

The ballot question asked voters to boost commissioner salaries to $45,381, the value of the 1966 salary adjusted for the cost of living. The mayor’s salary, currently $10,000, would have gone up to $75,636. Voters rejected the raise by a five-point margin — a difference of roughly 500 votes.

Supporters had hoped a raise would attract a larger pool of candidates. Although serving on the commission or as the mayor is technically a part-time job — a full-time city manager oversees day-to-day operations — commissioners are expected to attend numerous meetings and events. That can make it hard for elected officials who aren’t retired or independently wealthy to juggle their city obligations and a full-time job.

“It’s a lot of work,” said South Beach resident Jesus Bravo, 57, as he walked to the Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Tuesday afternoon to cast a ballot in support of the raise.

At the Ronald W. Shane Center in North Beach, Abigail Fellows, 44, said she voted to increase commissioners’ salaries because the current pay is “ridiculous.”

“I voted yes for an increase because I think you’re not going to attract quality candidates if you don’t pay properly,” she said.

Critics of the salary increase, including Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, have questioned whether elected officials should recommend their own raises. Gelber said earlier in the month that he would support a review of commissioner salaries by a third-party group as long as any changes didn’t impact current officeholders. Commissioners Micky Steinberg and Mark Samuelian also opposed putting raises on the August ballot.

North Beach resident Paola Palmieri, 38, said she voted against the raise because she thought the money would be better spent on city services for residents. “I think that money should be going toward things people need other than the salaries of politicians that are already big enough,” she said.

Although commissioners don’t take home big paychecks, they do get $2,250 a month for expenses, which they can spend at their discretion, no receipts required. The commission voted to raise the monthly stipend by $750 in February, although Gelber opted out of the increase. The mayor currently gets $2,000 a month.

In Miami-Dade County, compensation for elected officials varies drastically from place to place. Some municipalities don’t pay their elected officials a salary, while others pay commissioners $30,000 or more, according to a report from the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission.

Miami Beach voters approved a second ballot item concerning the composition of the city’s Board of Adjustment, a seven-member land use board that evaluates requests for exceptions to city rules relating to construction projects and alcohol sales.

The City Commission is currently required to appoint members who represent specific professions: a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, an accountant, a financial consultant, a businessperson and someone who works in real estate development. Voters approved allowing two of the board’s members to be “citizens at-large” with no restrictions on profession.

Professionals who serve on the Board of Adjustment can’t appear before any of the city’s land use boards, a restriction that can make it difficult for the commission to find people willing to take a seat on the board. Architects and engineers risk losing potential clients in Miami Beach if they’re unable to appear before any land use boards. An initiative to remove this restriction for architects was on the ballot in 2016, but failed to pass.