PA Council salary, size scrutinized

Published 9:32 am Monday, August 10, 2015

As cities across the state go headlong into the budget cycle, the cost of operating municipalities as frugally as possible is at the forefront of financial minds, including Port Arthur where a City Council larger than most carries a price tag to go along with its membership.
Port Arthur is governed by a city council consisting of nine members including a mayor and eight council men and women.
That number, according to data gathered by The News in an informal survey of like and surrounding Texas cities, is higher than the norm, as is the cost of compensating city elected officials.
In Port Arthur, a city with a population of 54,135, Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are single member districts; Districts 5 and 6 are combined districts and Positions 7 and 8 are at-large positions.
All are compensated for their service to the city with a salary, auto allowance, health insurance and reimbursement of expenses incurred from performing duties associated with their position.
Additionally, anytime the mayor or a council member makes a trip for city business in excess of 30 miles one way, they receive mileage reimbursement at the current federal government level.
In May 2013, voters approved a proposition moving the ability to decide compensation and reimbursement of job-related expenses from the Council itself to voters. Any changes in the Council’s current compensation would require voter approval.
Currently, salaries and car allowance alone for the mayor, mayor pro tem and remaining council members cost taxpayers $168,120 per year.
An informal survey conducted by The News indicated Port Arthur’s nine-member council is larger than most Southeast Texas cities.
And, many receive little, if no compensation for the public service job, according to the data provided by the cities surveyed.
Spending the closest for city council compensation is Beaumont, a city twice as populous as Port Arthur with 117, 796, according to the latest 2013 U.S. Census numbers.
Beaumont’s mayor draws a $2,000 check each month; the city’s mayor pro tem makes $1,650 per month and the remaining five council members make $1,400 per month. All monthly allotments include base pay, administrative pay and an auto allowance. In total, the city pays out $127,800 annually for City Council salaries.
Galveston, with a population of 48,733, does not compensate its city council, or the mayor. Rather, the city considers the elected posts to be volunteer positions that are a public service to the taxpayer.
The 75,418 populous living in nearby Baytown, a city with significant large industry similar to Port Arthur, is represented by a mayor and six city council members. Currently, the leadership is not compensated, though there is a proposition coming before voters on November general election ballot to pay the city’s mayor $1,000 per month and the remaining council members $500.
Council members representing Orange and Mid-County cities draw much lower salaries, and their council make up is smaller with a mayor and four to six council members representing the various cities.
Victoria, another city of similar size and makeup, with a population of 65,095 and a mayor and six council members, does pay compensation.
Each month the mayor of Victoria receives a salary of $325 and a $50 car allowance. The mayor pro tem is paid $325 per month and a $50 car allowance while the remaining Council members are compensated $225 per month and $50 for their car. All receive longevity pay ranging from $96 to $528 paid on a yearly basis.
Nearby Houston with 2.2 million people residing in the coastal city, dwarfs Port Arthur’s population, but only has 16 council members and a mayor. Eleven of those members represent single-member districts while the remaining five are elected at-large to represent the entire city.
Port Arthur is not the only U.S. city grappling with how much its city council is paid.
In a February 15 editorial published by The Los Angeles Times, the paper’s editors expressed outrage that each of their city’s each council members made $184,610, which was more than the governor’s salary of $177,467, and more than members of Congress at $174,000.
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