Payday arrives for Council without a raise

City Council's 17 members received their biweekly paychecks today without the 5 percent cost-of-living raise they are required to take as of July 1.

The checks would have been the first payday with the 5.13 cost-of-living adjustment, of CoLA, mandated by city law.

That doesn't mean they won't get the money eventually. Council leadership decided not to ask the Finance Department to factor in the raises until all Council members have decided whether they will give the raises back to the city in a show of solidarity with union workers being asked to accept no raises for four years.

Council has determined that it cannot legislate the raise away -- the 2003 law that set elected officials' salary dictates that they increase by the Consumer Price Index every June 30. Council cannot raise or lower salaries of elected officials during their term, which does not end until January 2012.

Council base salaries on June 30 went from $112,233 to $117,990. Leadership positions make more, with President Anna C. Verna topping the payroll at $148,090, up from $140,864.

Council's Majority Whip, Darrell L. Clarke, said "most of us have a sense of what we're going to do," with some electing to give their after-tax raise back to the general fund, others looking to give to charities. Clarke is somewhere in between -- he wants to give his raise to fund city pools, but the city's Splash and Summer FUNd Campaign for pools is not one of the many automatic paycheck deductions city employees can elect.

Minority Leader Brian O'Neill said he would give back to the general fund. "I have a couple of charities that I’d like to give, but it’s the argument that the purpose of not taking it is to help the city, no matter how small the gesture."

Councilwoman Joan Krajewski said she would also give back to the general fund, "because that's the reason we're giving it."

The city stands to benefit by about $85,000 in after-tax contributions, Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco said last week. O'Neill said a final decision by all Council members should coincide with settlement of union contracts, "so we see that we’re all in this together." Contracts for the city's four main unions expired June 30.

The city is currently awaiting action from the state legislature to close a $1.4 billion budget gap over the next four years. The city's budget, approved in May, requires adjustments to the pension fund and a 1-cent increase in the sales tax, each of which require state approval.

Mayor Nutter has announced that, due to the city's fiscal crisis, he would return his cost-of-living raise and continue to return 10 percent of his salary through the end of Fiscal Year 2010, in addition to a week's furlough which results in another 2 percent give-back.

Eight Council members -- Verna, Tasco, Frank DiCicco, W. Wilson Goode Jr., Bill Green, Curtis Jones Jr., Jim Kenney and Joan Krajewski gave back 5 percent from January 1 to July 1. But only Green and Kenney -- who have outside jobs -- have committed to continuing their 5 percent pay cut, and both have each committed to returning the 5.13 percent cost of living adjustment. Kenney will give to the general fund, Green to the Friends of the Free Library.

Council has at least one member who is not interested in what he termed a "public relations thing," and said he will collect his raise.

"I think I’m going to take it," said Republican minority whip Frank Rizzo. "If things got really bad, I think we’d have to reconsider. I don’t think we’re at the point that we have to play that game, because I think at this point it’s a PR thing."

Rizzo said his constituents "get a good value from me" and he hasn't received a phone call or e-mail demanding that he give up his raise.

"I think I’ll have a good feel for when we legitimately have to start passing around the hat.," Rizzo said. "Unless there’s an absolute need for me to give up my CoLA increase, at this point I’m not." 

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