High marks for Harlingen city manager

HARLINGEN — Four years after taking office, City Manager Dan Serna continues to make high marks on his job performance.

But this year, he settled for the 2 percent pay increase the city’s giving all its employees.

Still, Serna’s new $260,609 salary ranks him as one of the highest-paid city managers in Texas

Earlier this week, city commissioners met in closed session to give Serna his annual evaluation.

“He got an excellent review,” Mayor Chris Boswell said yesterday.

Boswell cited Serna’s work on several projects ranked as top priorities in the city’s 10-year master plan, such the new $16.7 million Harlingen Convention Center and the recently completed $4.5 million renovation of the Baxter Lofts building.

“The work he’s done in the last year is outstanding,” Boswell said. “He’s helped the city commission achieve objectives it set out.”

But this year, Serna didn’t get a hefty pay increase.

“He got an increase last year and didn’t get an increase this year,” Boswell said.

Last year, commissioners gave Serna a $45,000 pay increase, boosting his annual salary to $255,500 with a monthly $1,000 car allowance.

During Wednesday night’s closed-door meeting, Serna apparently didn’t ask for a big pay increase.

“I’m pleased with his decision to just accept the cost-of-living wage,” Commissioner Frank Puente said yesterday. “He feels he’s been well compensated.”

Yesterday, Serna could not be reached for comment.

Last year’s $45,000 pay increase stunned many residents.

During city meetings, some residents have condemned commissioners’ decision to approve last year’s big pay hike.

Critics sometimes point out Serna draws one of highest salaries among the area’s top administrators despite lacking a college degree.

Serna’s climb to top job

Despite a lack of formal administrative education, Serna climbed the ranks for 28 years, serving as assistant city manager for external affairs before taking over as city manager.

A master electrician, Serna started with the city as a building inspector in 1990.

A year later, he was working as a housing rehabilitation specialist with the community development department.

In 1996, Serna took the job of construction project coordinator.

From 1997 to 2005, he was working as director overseeing environmental health and public buildings while managing and directing the daily operations of several city departments.

In 2012, he was named assistant city manager for external services.

Residents call for spending cap

This year, residents appear strongly focused on the city’s spending.

For weeks, residents have scorned commissioners for passing a four-cent tax hike that boosted the property tax rate from about 58 cents to 63 cents per $100 valuation.

On Wednesday night, former Commissioner Robert Leftwich, an outspoken critic of Boswell’s administration, told commissioners Serna’s previous $45,000 pay increase was an “embarrassment” in a city in which about 35 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Serna’s salary ranks high

Serna’s salary makes him stand out.

Across Texas, he ranks among the highest-paid city managers making $260,000 or more, according to a survey by the Texas City Management Association.

In the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez, a former Harlingen city manager, stands as the highest-paid city manager, with an annual salary of $277,000, according to the survey.

Serna has pointed out the survey does not include information on many cities’ top administrative salaries.

Yesterday, Brownsville officials did not disclose City Manager’s Noel Bernal’s salary.

Last year, the city’s search for a new city manager listed the position’s salary at about $275,000 plus benefits.

City manager pay

Fort Worth: $340,700

Plano: $320,688

Boerne: $289,203

Richardson: $286,019

Grande Prairie: $282,019

McAllen: $277,000

Sugarland: $275,000

Lewisville: $272,938

Garland: $280,000

McKenney: $262,000

Source: Texas City Management Association