By Mike Lednovich
There was no mention that the 2023-2024 Fernandina Beach city budget included city commissioners voting themselves a 50% salary increase at Tuesday’s special meeting to make the budget official.
“This is arguably the biggest vote of our year,” proclaimed Mayor Bradley Bean.
The 2023-2024 city budget increases city commissioners’ yearly salary from $12,000 to $18,000 which will cost taxpayers $90,000 in total.
“I think this commission did an excellent job in recognizing some of the constituents’ struggles and doing what we could to provide a little relief in the taxes. I think this budget does a lot of many things and it has a lot of great improvements,” said Commissioner Darron Ayscue.
At the previous budget approval meeting – it requires two city commission votes to approve the budget – the city commission only heard public comment after they had already voted on the matter.
“We find money in the budget for a (city commissioner) 49% pay increase. A pay raise is due for a future commission, but the optics of voting for a pay raise and these things that have been mentioned are not good for your citizens,” said citizen Richard Deem at that meeting.
Previously, Commissioner Chip Ross argued that it was not appropriate for commissioners to vote themselves a salary increase. He said if the commission wanted to approve a pay hike it should become effective in the 2024-2025 budget cycle for future elected commissioners.
The issue of commissioner compensation was raised by Vice Mayor David Sturges after the city commission voted to take away health insurance benefits in 2022. Interim City Manager Charlie George said it was his decision alone to put the pay raise in the proposed budget.
Bean, Sturges, Ayscue and Antun voted for the budget – including raising their salaries – with Ross voting no.