City Council approves hefty raises for itself

Port St. Lucie Mayor Greg Oravec’s annual pay will rise to more than $80,000 per year, matching the pay of the St. Lucie County commissioners, starting in November 2020.

The city will pay Vice Mayor Shannon Martin and City Councilwoman Stephanie Morgan more than $48,000 per year starting in November 2020.

The city will also pay that much – about 61 percent of the county commissioners’ annual salary – to Councilmembers John Carvelli and Jolien Caraballo, if they win re-election in 2020.

The City Council voted 4-to-1 Monday night to award themselves substantial raises – 61 percent for the mayor and 38 percent for the councilmembers. The final vote is Oct. 28. Caraballo, the lone dissenter, said, “I’m not in philosophic agreement,” but didn’t explain why during the council meeting.

Oravec, Martin and Carvelli defended the raises, while Morgan said she would explain her position during the final public hearing. “The office should never enrich you, but it should allow you to make ends meet and attract talented, professional people,” Oravec said.

Port St. Lucie is Florida’s eighth most populous city with an annual budget of $450 million and 1,130 employees.

Two St. Lucie County Republican Party leaders criticized the raises during Monday’s hearing, while eight other city residents defended them.

“I can’t believe somebody would ask for a 60 percent increase in salary,” said Mary Anne Russell, a Republican state committee woman from St. Lucie West. “If I did that to my employers, they would be laughing hysterically as they escorted me out the front door.”

“An increase, perhaps,” Russell said. “Sixty percent? It’s got to only come back to bite the taxpayers. I think it’s absurd. I think it’s outrageous. I don’t think it’s deserving of a part time job.”

Mark Gotz, who lost a close race for state House in District 84 in 2018, said “this ordinance is a greedy con job on the citizens of Port St. Lucie to increase the salaries of the council and mayor.”

“The council and mayor get a cost of living increase just like all regular employees do, plus the council and mayor get a car allowance of $6,000 per year, but it’s not enough,” Gotz said. “To increase your own salaries really looks terrible.”

But John Richardson, developer at Motor Coach Resort in St. Lucie West, said the mayors of the six Florida cities larger than Port St. Lucie all earn about three times Oravec’s city pay, so he deserves a raise.

“I was absolutely shocked we had a mayor that was working for under $50,000 a year,” Richardson said. “I don’t know how anybody can do that. If we want to continue to grow, we need visionaries. You don’t get visionaries for $50,000.”

Dan Wire of Tradition said increasing the pay of the mayor and council would improve the quality of leadership in the city.

“You’ve got to pay for good leadership,” Wire said. “Good leaders are expensive; poor leaders are very expensive.”

The proposed raise for the mayor mirrored the approach of Tallahassee, the state’s seventh largest city, where the mayor’s salary matches the county commissioners’ annual pay.

However the Tallahassee city commissioners make half the annual pay of the Leon County commissioners.

The Port St. Lucie councilmembers’ annual pay will based on a comparison of the city’s population to the county’s population. For example, Port St. Lucie’s population was 195,248 as of July 1, 2018, U.S. Census records show, and St. Lucie County’s was 321,128. Since the city’s population amounts to about 61 percent of the county’s, the City Council’s annual salary will be about 61 percent of the county commissioners’ yearly pay.

Until November 2020, the city will continue to pay Oravec $49,843 annually and the councilmembers $35,431 per year.

The raises will cost the city more than $84,000 annually starting in the 2020-2021 budget year.

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