May 22, 2008 in City

67 percent pay raise urged for City Council

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane City Council appears headed for a 67 percent salary boost based on the recommendation of a city board.

The proposal, from the Salary Review Commission, calls for pay to rise from $18,000 to $30,000 a year for council members. It would be the first increase since 1991.

The commission also has recommended that the City Council president be paid $55,000, up from $40,000 a year.

The five-member board is expected to make its final decision on Tuesday. That ruling will be binding unless voters collect enough signatures to put it on the November ballot.

Hal Ellis, who leads the commission, said the increase would help raise interest in running for council seats. Although the only official duty for the office is attending one weekly meeting, most members spend well over 40 hours a week on the job to make better decisions, he said.

“Do you want people to come down here and throw darts at a dartboard?” Ellis said. “The people of Spokane deserve better.”

Only three people spoke at a commission hearing on the topic Wednesday.

George McGrath, a former council candidate, said council members should understand their duties and salary before taking office.

“Each and every one of them knows what their job entails before they run for city council office,” McGrath said.

He also said voters, not the commission, should have the final say on council pay.

If approved, council salaries would increase in 2009. This year, the city’s budget was increased to allow each council member to hire a part-time assistant.

The commission examined council salaries of 10 other similar-size cities and found that Spokane’s council pay was toward the bottom of the list. Making the change would put Spokane near the top.

Of those on the list, cities that pay more than $30,000 were Tacoma and Akron, Ohio. Montgomery, Ala., pays the same as Spokane. Only Eugene, Ore., pays less.

Considering inflation, $30,000 equals about what $18,000 was worth when the level was selected in 1991, Ellis said.

The commission was proposed by City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin and created by the City Council in August.

McLaughlin said Wednesday she is unsure if the proposed pay is high enough to increase the amount of interest in running for office because it “would be really, really tough” to raise a family with only a $30,000 salary.

But Councilman Steve Corker said $30,000 is enough to allow more people to consider holding office, but not enough to encourage anyone to become a lifetime politician.

“If public service becomes a job and provides security to your family then I’m not sure it’s public service. That’s a job,” Corker said.

Mayor Mary Verner also supports the change.

“They deserve it,” she said.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email