Hidden Perks for RI Council Members — Town-by-Town Breakdown
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
City and Town Council members in some communities across the state are benefiting from incentive packages that include expense accounts, health benefits, pensions, travel reimbursements, and stipends on top of their annual salaries, according to a recent survey conducted by the Division of Municipal Finance.
The survey found that the packages vary by community, with Providence Council Members earning by far the most in salary ($18,765 & $20,850 for Council President Michael Solomon). Council members are also entitled to receive a pension as well as health and dental benefits, although not all of the members opt to participate in those programs. Council members also receive city cell phones.
On Block Island, First Warden Kimberley H. Gaffett earns $10,000 annually while the standard Council pay is $5,000. Those Council members are also entitled to health and dental benefits, a pension and they can be reimbursed for travel expenses related to work.
In Warwick, Council members earn $10,000 annually and are eligible for health, dental and vision benefits as well as group life insurance and a pension. In East Providence, the average Council members earns $3,500 annually and can enjoy health, dental and vision benefits. Those members do not receive a pension.
Not Concerned with Perks
While the majority of Council members across the state earn less than $5,000 each year, some candidates running for office say even that may be too much for a public servant.
Thomas Browning, a Moderate Party candidate in South Kingstown, said he was unaware Council members in his town receive even a dime in compensation. His town is at the low end of the totem pole, with the President earning $3,000 and rank-and-file members earning $2,000. They do not receive any health benefits, a pension or perks.
“[I] had been unaware that council members in South Kingstown received any pay,” Browning said. “I am running for office as a favor to my friends and neighbor that have ask me to represent their wishes and interests. I am not interested in pursuing any further financial gain from public service.”
Smithfield Democrat Suzy Alba said she isn’t concerned with compensation levels in her community either. In her town, the Council President earns $4,500 and Council members pick up $4,000 and nobody receives any additional benefits.
“If elected to the Town Council in Smithfield this year, I will responsibly serve my community despite what monetary compensation and benefits are being offered to me in return,” Alba said. “In fact, in my first term, I will not accept any compensation for my service to the town.”
Alba said she hoped that no candidate or incumbent would ever let money influence their decision to run for office and serve their constituents. She acknowledged that she was unaware of the large disparities in benefits packages depending on the city or town, but said that is something each community should consider on its own.
“I believe that every community across our state should thoughtfully consider whether compensating council members comes at a cost to the services provided to taxpayers,” Alba said.
Eliminate the Benefits
If Republican Lyn Jennings picks up the Ward 8 Council seat in Warwick, she not only plans to give up the benefits she is entitled to, she also intends to lead an effort to get rid of the benefits completely or force Council members to pay for them.
Jennings said Council members who take advantage of the health, dental and vision plans pay just $28.00 each week toward a package with a value that “far exceeds the annual $10,000 salary.” She said she isn’t sure taxpayers would agree with subsidizing costs for elected officials and called the package “an egregious example of wasteful spending.”
“I have very strong opinions about city council members receiving taxpayer subsidized benefits for a part-time position,” Jennings said. “These kinds of benefit packages should not be offered. One of my first acts will be to introduce a resolution to eliminate these benefits or to at least mandate that any council member who wishes to participate in the city’s benefit package must pay for them in full.”
An Abuse of Taxpayer Money
Despite the fact that serving as a Council member can often be a full-time job, not a single candidate GoLocalProv spoke with willing to defend the compensation packages handed out in their communities. Lincoln Council candidate Felix Fernandes said representing his district would be a privilege and that he was uninterested in profiting at all.
In Lincoln, the average Council member earns $2,500 and the town budgets $4,000 for expenses plus another $5,000 for professional development and training. Fernandes said he believes that a city or town should not be responsible for healthcare coverage and or any other benefits for its Council members.
“To offer such things should be viewed as an abuse of taxpayer money,” he said. “Taxpayer money belongs in the pockets of the taxpayer; it does not belong paying for Council members’ perks. We need to operate our cities and towns like businesses in many ways and in doing so, we should ask ourselves ‘would we get any fewer applicants for the job if we did not offer such perks?’”
Dan McGowan can be reached at email@example.com
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