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Escondido Councilmember Sam Abed changed his mind. He wants to give back 5 percent of the 10-percent pay increase he supported for the city council back in 2007. At a January 7 city-council meeting, Abed said that, considering the city’s upside down finances (a $7.4 million budget deficit), he doesn’t want the extra $675 a year. Instead, he feels the money should go back into the city’s empty piggy bank. Abed’s “change of heart” was expressed minutes before the council heard a proposal to cut the salaries of City Hall employees by 5 percent.

Don’t get him wrong, Abed says, the city council should be compensated more than the $12-an-hour wage they receive, but a raise during what he referred to as “rapidly deteriorating economic times” is not justified. Instead, Abed said the council should give back the money but keep the raises in place for next year. The pay for a councilmember, after incurring a 5 percent cut, is $26,969.

“Certainly public office is not about income, but I still believe that there should be a fair compensation to the city council — not to make it an incentive, but at the same time not to make it a disincentive,” said Abed. “It’s a symbolic gesture. It shows to our city employees and the taxpayers that we care.”

Mayor Lorie Holt Pfeiler feels the city should pay for services rendered. The mayor's salary without the full raise is $53,187, though her position is considered full time. “We need to be honest with the public about what it costs to serve and what is fair," said Pfeiler. "There’s value in what we do for the community.”

“When you put this on the agenda, you’re really taking away what your value is as a councilmember,” said Pfeiler while glancing over at Councilmember Abed.

Pfeiler responded to newly inducted Councilmember Olga Diaz’s comment on the public’s perception of the pay increase. Pfeiler said, “It’s always an interesting discussion about what sits well with the public and what their perception is. The perception is that I make between $85,000 and $100,000 a year and it’s, like, okay, it’s about half that. People are quite surprised about that, so you have to have some education about the perception of the public.”

After some debate, the council unanimously supported a nonbinding resolution stating they will refund 5 percent of their 10 percent pay increase.

For more on Escondido city councilmembers' thinning pocketbooks, go to ci.escondido.ca.us.

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