Pay increase proposed for EBR council members

A Metro councilwoman said she thinks council members in East Baton Rouge Parish are underpaid and is working on a proposal to increase their compensation.

Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle noted East Baton Rouge is the most-populous parish in the state but said its council members are among the state’s lowest paid. Council members receive a base pay of $12,000 annually plus a monthly auto allowance of $800, bringing their total compensation to $21,600.

Marcelle said she hasn’t decided yet how much of a pay hike to seek, but noted that New Orleans City Council members are paid $83,500 a year. She suggested a $70,000 salary wouldn’t be out of line for East Baton Rouge Parish council members, given the parish’s size and the demands of the position they hold.

Any pay raise for council members would require the approval of parish voters. But the Metro Council would have to first vote to place a salary proposal on the ballot

Any pay raise for council members would require the approval of parish voters. But the Metro Council would have to first vote to place a salary proposal on the ballot.

The elected position is considered a part-time job but Marcelle said council members often dedicate more than 40 hours a week to their duties. Those duties, she said, include attending meetings, addressing constituent needs, crafting ordinances and appearing at community events.

“It’s a no brainer for me,” Marcelle said. “It requires a lot of time and in order to do a good job and it should be converted to a full-time seat.”

Marcelle, a legal assistant at the Gordon McKernan law firm, said she’s fortunate to have a job that allows her flexible working hours. But the low pay of a council member salary coupled with the demanding hours of the position make it difficult for the average citizen to run for office, she said.

“You either need to be retired or wealthy to subsidize your income if you run for office,” Marcelle said.

Marcelle said she’s researching what other council members throughout the state and in peer cities earn and plans to place an item on the Baton Rouge Metro Council’s agenda to address the pay disparity.

New Orleans City Council members earn $83,500, after voting to change the positions from part time to full time in 2009. They previously earned $42,000 per year.

Another council with a smaller constituency than Baton Rouge, but a higher pay grade, is the Lafayette City-Parish Council, whose members currently earn $25,480 per year. The Lafayette council approved a budget to raise the salary to $28,028 beginning Nov. 1, but some members have said they don’t plan to take the increase.

Tangipahoa and Ascension Parish council members earn $19,200 a year, West Baton Rouge council members earn a salary of $14,305 and Port Allen council members receive $12,000 a year.

Louisiana state legislators get a base pay of $16,800 annually, plus another unvouchered $6,000 a year for expenses. They also receive a $149 a day per diem for each day they are in legislative session.

Some of Marcelle’s colleagues on the Metro Council oppose her pay raise proposal.

Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he would “fight vigorously against any type of pay raise for Metro Council members … I think we’re extremely fairly compensated. I didn’t run for the money and I knew the salary before I ran for office.”

Amoroso said the council appoints dozens of people to various boards and commissions like the Library Board of Control and the Capital Area Transit System Board, who volunteer to carry out city-parish business without compensation.

He also said there are more deserving programs in the city-parish in need of funding.

“My conscience doesn’t allow me to take additional money from the city,” Amoroso said.

Councilman John Delgado, a lawyer, said taking office in January has dramatically cut into the time he is able to devote to his law practice.

“If I told you I’m losing $50,000 a year or more by working as a council member,” Delgado said, describing that as very conservative estimate.

“It does take up a huge amount of my time, but I’m not saying ‘Cry for me,’ because I knew that going into it,” he said.

Delgado said he didn’t know if he could support pay raises for council members, but would like to see council members’ overall budgets increase so he could hire additional staff to serve his district more efficiently.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she absolutely supports pay raises for council members.

Banks-Daniel said she took office thinking it would require two council meetings a month, but her time has since been consumed by answering constituent phone calls and emails, dealing with her community center and other district issues.

“We are working 20 and sometimes 40 hours a week on our council duties,” she said. “It’s not the glorified position that some people think it is.”

Banks-Daniel said she also works a full-time job for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System to provide financial support to her family.

“People come to the notion that the economic needs of an elected official aren’t the same,” she said. “But it’s more taxing and there’s more of a pull on our time.”