Government / Politics

A look at Hollister council members’ compensation- vote comes May 16

With the conversation centered on increasing the stipend to $800, council members fail to discuss benefits they receive from the city.

On May 16 the Hollister City Council will vote on whether to raise its monthly stipend from $400 to $800. If the consensus expressed at the council April 18 meeting is any indication, it will most likely take the raise.

BenitoLink reported on the proposed increase on April 22, but was unable to report fully on what benefits the council members receive. Benefits were not mentioned in the April meeting. When asked, City Manager Brett Miller said that those on City Council are also offered health insurance packages. Citing legal concerns, Miller could not provide BenitoLink with details on the package until May 3. 

There are different ways to look at the raise. On the one hand, it’s a 100% increase. On the other hand, the present council has been shortchanged, because for 22 years past councils did not take the annual 5% raise they were due by city ordinance. If those councils had accepted the annual increases, they could have taken advantage of compounded interest. Instead of receiving $400 a month, current council members would be receiving $1,170 a month in 2022. But council members since 2000 voted to take minimal payments.

The vote is expected to take place May 16. According to City Manager Brett Miller, all five members of the council have the option of taking health benefits and all do in varying ways.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez receives an additional $200 a month stipend as mayor and has a family plan that the city contributes $2,914 a month. Velazquez, who has been mayor since 2012, receives an annual stipend of $7,205, according to the state controller’s office, which also states he receives $29,700 in retirement and healthcare benefits, as of 2020. The current amount is $34,973, because of increased insurance costs, said Miller.

As for the rest of the council, all of whom now receive the $400 stipend, Councilmen Rick Perez and Rolan Resendiz have a single health insurance plan to which the city contributes $1,121 a month. Councilwoman Dolores Morales has an employee-plus-one plan to which the city contributes $2,245 a month. And Councilman Tim Burns has chosen vision and dental coverage only, to which the city contributes $131 a month.

Burns told BenitoLink he only takes the lesser amount because he already receives retirement benefits from Los Gatos, where he was a police officer. He also works for the city of Fresno as a community compliance manager in the city attorney’s office. He said when he ran for office he did not want to be paid but was informed he had to take the stipend. He said after taxes he receives just $341, all of which he donates to the Marty Richman Memorial Scholarship for graduating high school seniors. He said he will also donate the stipend increase to the fund.

Initially, Miller told BenitoLink when council members leave office, their benefits packages will cease. But he clarified that statement on May 4, saying the city pays their portion of retirement, except if they are currently in CALPERs, with another agency, or a retired CALPERs member.

“The Mayor receives retirement,” Miller said. “He will also receive it after his term ends for the reason that he is vested with CALPERs, which is a five-year vesting requirement.”

Miller continued: “They receive medical, vision and dental. If they are vested and upon retirement age, they get the retirement for life.”

Under the new retirement formula, a person who is on the council for eight years and with the proposed salary increase of $800, once they reach age 60, they will receive $1,536 a year in retirement, he said. 

Miller said he did not have information on how many past council members receive retirement benefits.

 

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years' experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]