OLDSMAR — When Oldsmar’s Ordinance Review Committee conducted a review of city code with the purpose of streamlining language and bringing items up to date, it recommended giving pay raises to the five city council members, including the mayor, something that hadn’t been done since 2006.
Currently, the mayor of Oldsmar makes $10,800 annually, while each council member takes home $8,400 per year. The ORC recommended raising the mayor’s salary to $16,000 a year and council members’ pay to $14,000 annually. The committee also recommended an automatic annual increase of 3% to kick in every Oct. 1.
But a funny thing happened along the way to accepting more money. The council balked at the idea of receiving the full increase, with some suggesting the amount be lowered and others, including Mayor Eric Seidel, flat out rejecting the idea of any pay raise.
“I support the committee’s work on this,” Seidel said during the first reading of Ordinance 2021-10 on May 18. “But I don’t support raising it.”
Seidel suggested they put the item to a referendum vote, noting, “it makes a lot more sense that all the citizens … should be able to chime in” on the issue, and the idea was generally supported by his council colleagues.
“I am interested in additional citizen input,” council member Katie Gannon said, noting she had “a little bit of sticker shock” when she saw the ORC’s recommendation. Council member Dan Saracki, who recently announced his intention to run for mayor next March, said he would like to see them split the difference and nix the automatic annual increases.
“I thought it was a little bit high,” Saracki said before suggesting a raise of $2,000 for council members and the mayor.
After a motion proposed by Gannon failed, the council agreed to add the item to the next agenda for further discussion. However, when it came time to address the item during the June 1 regular session, the council had already unanimously voted to approve Ordinance 2021-10 without the pay increase included. That made Gannon’s suggestion of allowing the city’s Charter Review Committee to weigh in on the topic a moot point, according to Seidel.
“For clarity, earlier tonight we approved the second reading of the ordinance that we’re talking about, so none of those changes have been made,” Seidel said. “So, to an extent, that ship has sailed.”
Council members still weighed in. Vice Mayor Andrew Knapp said he was “in favor of seeing some change,” and suggested an increase of $1,200 per year for each position. Council member Steve Graber, who was a member of the ORC prior to being elected in March, stating he’d like to see a consensus “if we’re making a decision that’s going to impact future councils.” Saracki added, “If we don’t agree on this, let’s just wait for five years for next Ordinance Review Committee to review it again.”
But Seidel had the last word on the subject, and his explanation seemed to put the item to rest for good.
After referencing a spreadsheet detailing the salaries of the local leaders in the 24 Pinellas County municipalities, he noted the big difference between Oldsmar and the others was the size of the budget.
“You look at Safety Harbor, their council members get $4,800 (annually), the mayor gets about $9,000 a year with expense money, but they have an operating budget of $73 million dollars,” Seidel said. Oldsmar’s fiscal year 2021 operating budget was $37 million. “So, I don’t think that makes sense. It would be one thing if we were talking a totally different number of assets to manage, but we don’t have it. So, that’s why I come out on that issue that way.”
After Saracki said he didn’t support it going to referendum and suggested they “let it go,” the discussion ended, meaning there will be no pay increases for Oldsmar council members for at least five more years.
Afterward, Seidel elaborated about the reasons behind his decision.
“Personally, I believe we’re all professional volunteers, for lack of a better word,” he said by phone. “Compensation is never an issue for people who serve, and to compare us to other cities you have to compare budgets and resources and among our peers ours is the smallest. You have to look at the whole story, so it makes sense to compare.”
Noting city leaders also get compensated for travel and other expenses, Seidel said a minimal raise really wouldn’t make much a difference and suggested addressing their time commitment rather than their pay.
“I’ve always said it’s not the amount of money, it’s the amount of time we put in,” he said. “If we could come up with a proposal or an ordinance that saves some time, that’s what we should be talking about.”