Hayward: Wahab tried to lower council pay by 5%, colleagues were cool to the idea

Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab

As Hayward councilmembers thanked its executive team and firefighters on Tuesday night for foregoing two percent cost-of-living increases to help lower the city’s ballooning covid-related deficit, in addition, to their own two percent cut in council pay, Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab, instead, pushed for further generosity from her colleagues.

Hayward beat“I, personally, am willing to forego for Fiscal Year 2021, up to five percent,” Wahab told her council mates on Tuesday night.

Several Hayward councilmembers, including Mayor Barbara Halliday, were cool to Wahab’s proposal. Instead, they urged Wahab to make her own donations to local charities, including the Hayward Community Relief Fund.

“I would strongly recommend you go the donation route, which I think would be very helpful for the community,” Halliday said.

Others, like Councilmember Elisa Marquez and Al Mendall, touted their own contributions to the fund created during the pandemic to help Hayward residents affected by covid-19.

For councilmembers, who are now required to foot the bill for any council-related travel expenses under the new policy approved Tuesday night, the move amounts to another pay cut, Mendall said. Councilmember Mark Salinas, who supported the salary cut, said he believes it’s the third time he has done so since first being elected to the council in 2010.

Referencing a comment made earlier by Wahab that low council pay may dissuade future candidates to run for the city council, Marquez said, “This is a lot work and a lot of responsibility. I think most of us put in 30-40 hours a week to serve in this capacity.”

Lowering salary pay may make it more difficult to retain and attract council candidates in the future who are not either wealthy or retired, Marquez added. “I think we’re all comfortable making that cut right now because of covid.”

The mayor of Hayward currently draws a $40,000 annual salary. Councilmembers earn roughly $25,000. The two percent cut in salary amounts to $800 and $500, respectively.

The city’s push to cut costs in the face of the covid-19 economic downturn has started to yield some savings. By foregoing COLAs to the end of their current contract, the firefighters unions save the city about $480,000. Meanwhile, the city manager and executive staff, along with the city council pay cuts, add another $18,300 back into the city’s treasury.

But there are strong signs Hayward is likely to be facing a very difficult financial future. Roughly half of Hayward’s $36 million in total General Fund reserves for the current fiscal year, which concludes on June 30, is likely to be gobbled up. This is mostly due to the dramatic decrease in sales tax revenues.

Most temporary city employees have already been laid off, and non-personnel expenses have dropped from $750,000 to $250,000 during the pandemic, city staff said.

In addition, councilmembers will now pay for their own meals. Previously the pre-council meeting meals were provided by the city. Wahab, however, has paid for her own meal since becoming a councilmember in December 2018.

In recent weeks, Hayward councilmembers have met in closed session on at least three occasions with labor unions in an effort to find additional cost savings. Possibly deferred pay, or even discussions about layoffs, may be on the table.

Because of the ongoing talks, which include two more scheduled closed sessions with labor next week, elected officials do not have a firm grasp of how bad Hayward’s financial woes may be. A full budget presentation is scheduled for June 2, a very late date in the process, given the city’s budget must be balanced and approved by June 30.

“Because we are in flux right now because of trying to negotiate with our bargaining groups to help generate some savings for next year, we have not prepared our typically budget document that the council would have received by now,” said Kelly McAdoo, Hayward’s city manager.

It’s unclear whether talks with labor have become contentious at this point, but mistrust, although somewhat alleviated in recent years, has been evident in Hayward labor negotiations in the past.

In fact, Wahab’s proposed five percent salary cuts for councilmembers, whether intended or not, evokes the controversial, and later determined illegal, five percent wage cut the Hayward City Council imposed on city employees in 2013.

Labor unions in the city have long memories when it comes that particular council decision. Three members of the current city council offered support for the wage imposition – Councilmembers Francisco Zermeno, Al Mendall, Mark Salinas, and Mayor Halliday.