Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr. : S. Tucson pays a princely wage

2007-08-03T00:00:00Z Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr. : S. Tucson pays a princely wageOpinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star
August 03, 2007 12:00 am  • 

South Tucson is not exactly rolling in dough.

It's small and lacks large businesses to generate sales tax. Assessed property taxes are low, too.

None of that has kept the square-mile municipality from paying its new city manager a top-dollar salary.

Enrique Serna, who previously served as South Tucson city manager, will receive an annual salary of $132,000.

Serna took what South Tucson offered him.

No one would expect Serna to say, "Excuse me, but since South Tucson is not exactly Oro Valley, I'll take the job for $99,000 a year. Deal?"

Serna will take a $40,000 annual pay cut as Pima County deputy administrator so he can return to South Tucson, where he began his career. It makes for a good story.

But what doesn't make for a good story is the decision by South Tucson leaders.

South Tucson paid an annual salary of $91,500 to Acting City Manager Ruben Villa and former City Manager Fernando Castro, who passed away last year.

Did South Tucson's population of 5,500 grow to warrant a $40,500 salary hike? Does it have a larger work force to manage? Are there more streets and city buildings to oversee?

I don't think so.

Let's compare pay for similar managers around Pima County.

Sahuarita, with more than 20,000 residents, pays its city manager $137,302 a year. Marana, with 35,000 people, pays $142,183. And Oro Valley at 45,000, pays $141,773 a year.

And those three communities are growing fast. South Tucson, with an annual budget of about $5 million, isn't.

Money isn't the only thing South Tucson offered Serna.

It gave Serna a bank of 120 sick days and 90 vacation days, and unrestricted use of a city vehicle. And if Serna is forced out — like that never happens in municipal government — South Tucson will pay him the unused sick and vacation time, and six months salary.

None of the other three town managers get nearly that much sick and vacation time, and the Sahuarita manager has to use his own car.

Do you think South Tucson city officials really wonder why the city gets a bad rap? Recently the county bailed out South Tucson with an emergency allocation of $500,000 because it overspent on the construction of two new parks. South Tucson didn't have parks.

The South Tucson City Council approved the contract July 23. One council member approved the hiring but voted against the contract.

Not much of an outcry. I guess South Tucson residents consider this business as usual.

Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom told this newspaper that Serna's experience will move South Tucson forward. The salary, she added, will not hurt the city's $5 million budget.

The argument is that if South Tucson wants top-notch talent, then it has to pay for it. Fair enough. Towns, cities and private industry say that all the time.

But apparently the job isn't that critical.

Serna will work 19 hours a week for the first 33 weeks into his contract, which begins Aug. 15. Serna retired from the county but will remain in the state retirement system, which limits him to part-time work.

On Aug. 4 of next year, Serna can plunge full time into the new job.

That means South Tucson will manage with a part-time city manager at part-time salary for most of one year.

If South Tucson can manage with a part-time manager for a year, why make the position full-time at all?

Opinion by


Portillo jr.

● Contact columnist Ernesto Portillo Jr. at eportillo@azstar net.com or 573-4242. His blog is at go.azstarnet.com/blogs

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