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Editorial: Pay raise for Camarillo leaders raises questions

By   /   Monday, July 9th, 2012  /   Comments Off

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The Ventura County Taxpayers Association has a reputation for telling it like it is, without passing political judgments on how governments spend their money.

That’s why we appreciate the Taxpayers Association’s recent criticism of the way the city of Camarillo has gone about handing 5 percent pay hikes to its council members.

It appears that Camarillo elected to place the raises on a so-called “consent” agenda, which means there was no mention of the raises during public meetings. According to the taxpayer’s group, the council’s pay went up 5 percent in 2011 and again this year and will do so again like clockwork in 2013 and 2014. With compounding, that amounts to roughly a 25 percent pay hike in four years — in the words of that fiscal expert George Gershwin it is indeed “nice work if you can get it.”

Now, a few words need to be said in defense of paying Camarillo city council members a bit more, perhaps even quite a bit more. Camarillo is an extremely well-run city — it has largely solved its pension problems and the Camarillo Premium Outlets shopping complex is practically a money machine.

Camarillo has a reputation for clean government ,and the council works hard.

At least in theory, Camarillo’s city council ought to make as much as elected representatives in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks.

But that’s really only in theory. Camarillo does run the danger of getting into too much “me too” mode where small increases in expenses lead to larger ones and fiscal stress.  How can this happen? Camarillo isn’t likely to be headed for a Stockton-like outcome.

But we will point out that a decade ago, Santa Barbara County boasted a fully-funded pension plan and surpluses that ran to the horizon.

Today, hundreds of jobs have been cut and the county’s best hope to balance the books is a substantial hike in tourism taxes.

Fortune’s wheel has a way of turning, and hefty raises for city council members could become a political liability. That’s why a healthy public debate before they’re approved is a terrific insurance policy.

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