Who's taking the COLA cash

City Council members who say they plan to keep their COLA raises or whose checks reflect the raise are (counterclockwise from top left) Blondell Reynolds Brown, Marian Tasco, Kenyatta Johnson, Bill Green, W. Wilson Goode Jr., Maria Quinones Sanchez, Dennis O'Brien. (Daily News Photo Illustration)
City Council members who say they plan to keep their COLA raises or whose checks reflect the raise are (counterclockwise from top left) Blondell Reynolds Brown, Marian Tasco, Kenyatta Johnson, Bill Green, W. Wilson Goode Jr., Maria Quinones Sanchez, Dennis O'Brien. (Daily News Photo Illustration)
Posted: August 01, 2012

TIMES ARE SO TOUGH for the city that your property taxes are going up for the third straight year to help balance the budget.

In a show of compassion after the latest rocky budget session, Mayor Nutter and at least half of the city's other elected officials are declining a 2.8 percent cost-of-living pay increase that took effect this month. But at least nine elected officials are likely pocketing the cash, according to data from the City Controller's Office.

"I am taking it," said City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez. "This is my only full-time job."

Elected officials are eligible for the COLA — cost of living adjustment — under a 2003 law, which grants annual raises based on the rate of inflation as determined by the increase in the Consumer Price Index. This year that works out to 2.8 percent, or $3,365 for most Council members.

After a number of elected officials declined to comment or dodged calls, the Daily News requested payroll data from the City Controller's Office to figure out who was keeping the raise. According to data from the first pay period of the year, at least nine elected officials are taking the money; 11 are giving it back to the city or to charity. Four others received the money, but three said they planned to give it back and one said she was undecided.

Those giving it back said they felt an obligation to help the city, which has struggled financially since the 2008 economic crash.

"The city faces numerous fiscal challenges and I believe in trying to lead by example. We continue to ask citizens to make a variety of sacrifices," said Nutter, who has given close to $100,000 back since 2008 through voluntary salary cuts and by refusing COLA payments. "I think it's a part of me personally doing my part."

Members of the city's blue- and white-collar unions, have not gotten raises since their one-year contract expired at the end of June 2009. Firefighters haven't gotten raises because their arbitration award is still being challenged by the city, while police received 3 percent raises in July 2010 and July 2011.

Most of the veteran Council members and other elected officials have passed on some raises and/or given money back over the past four years.

Councilman Bill Green, who is taking the COLA, has given up $22,752 in salary since 2008. He said the decision is complicated.

"I think everybody has to make their own personal decision. Rather than give it to the Friends of the Free Library, I've decided there are other charitable priorities," Green said. n

Contact Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4172 or luceyc@phillynews.com.

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