Spokane City Council members secretaries will make more money, getting an additional eight hours a week under a budget plan approved unanimously Monday evening.
The council began hiring personal assistants in 2008. Monday’s vote will increase their hours from 20 to 28 hours a week.
The extra work will cost about $50,000 in pay and pension benefits, which will be covered by cutting the pay of the council’s unfilled auditor job and of the council’s two full-time employees.
Officials stressed that the addition of hours will not increase red ink. While the 2010 budget is balanced, city leaders estimate a $10 million hole in 2011.
Councilman Richard Rush noted that the city’s Salary Review Commission recommended in 2008 that an additional full-time employee should be hired to help the council research proposals under consideration. Rush said adding additional hours is a cheaper alternative to the commission’s proposal.
City Councilman Steve Corker said demands on the council have grown tremendously in recent years. Members are expected to attend neighborhood council meetings and serve on more boards and commissions. The proposal, he said, was the result of the council answering the question: “How can we make ourselves more efficient?”
Most on the council say the assistants help them research proposals and be more responsive to citizen inquiries. That, they say, results in better policy.
Former council member Mike Allen, who lost his seat in the November election, said raising staff hours probably wouldn’t make a “material difference” in the council’s work.
“I thought the assistants were largely underutilized,” Allen said in an interview last week.
Having personal assistants isn’t unprecedented. Each of the three Spokane County commissioners has an assistant. Commissioners note that they essentially act as the council and mayor of the county.
In Seattle, city councilors have multiple personal assistants. But in Tacoma, the nine-member city council shares two full-time assistants, said Tacoma City Councilman Joe Lonergan. The Tacoma body also has three college students who serve fellowships in the council office.
Monday’s vote reduced the pay and benefits of the internal auditor by about $40,000 to $100,000 a year.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref stressed that the council remains committed to maintaining an auditor who will assist the council on budget issues.
“We just thought we could reasonably fill that position with a smaller salary,” she said.