Spokane City Council members will get a nearly $14,000 pay increase beginning next year, a 44 percent raise, following a decision by the city’s Salary Review Commission last week.
The decision came after three months of research by the five-member commission, which included reviewing salaries of other elected municipal officials in the state, Spokane’s median household income and cost-of-living data. Council members also provided testimony to the commission.
Beginning Jan. 1, the six council members will be paid $45,100, a 44 percent increase over their current annual wage of $31,200. Council President Ben Stuckart will receive a much smaller increase, about $1,400. He will be paid $58,630 a year, or 30 percent more than council members. Currently, Stuckart earns $57,200.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who recently was elected to the council but has worked in its offices for years, said the increase was “fair” considering the amount of work members do.
“It is a public service,” she said. “It’s not a 40-hour-a-week job. It’s 50, sometimes 60.”
Kinnear said the new wage would make public office more accessible to people who are not retired, independently wealthy or relying on a higher-earning spouse.
Councilman Breean Beggs agreed.
“I think it will increase the pool of people, especially people of color, and single people who are head of families,” Beggs said.
Mike Allen, who left the council at the end of last year, criticized the pay increase, saying it follows years of increasing the pay, the number of assistants and the amount of hours members work.
“From a fiscal conservative standpoint, it’s worrisome to me,” he said. “Good governance doesn’t come from more people coming up with more rules and laws.”
Allen said a discussion about increasing the pay in 2014 led him and former Councilman Steve Salvatori to suggest putting the question to voters as an advisory question. The council voted against them.
Before 2008, council members earned $18,000 a year and had no personal assistants. In 2008, their pay was increased to $30,000 and each was allowed to hire a part-time assistant. Since then the assistant positions have become full-time jobs.
The most conservative member of the council, Councilman Mike Fagan, said he was torn on the issue.
“I’m a smaller government, lower taxes kind of guy,” he said. “But yeah. We do do a lot. It definitely does take the pressure off.”
Fagan said the council’s budget has grown much faster than the mayor’s office budget, but in the end he “greatly appreciates” the work of the salary commission.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she never expected a pay increase but welcomed it considering the long hours she and other council members put in at City Hall, in neighborhood meetings and at other commission and committee meetings.
“When I ran for office, I knew what the salary was,” she said. “That said, it would be wrong to say I’m not pleased with the increase in compensation.”
Stratton, whose parents both served as elected officials, said she puts in 50 to 60 hours a week on average but has wanted to be in government since she was young.
“I would’ve done this in my 30s – it’s in my blood – but I had to wait until I could afford to do it,” she said.
The salary commission last raised council member pay in 2014, when it gave members a 4 percent increase in pay. Last year, the commission ruled to decrease Mayor David Condon’s annual pay by 6 percent, from $179,484 to $168,000.
The raises will go into effect unless a valid petition for a referendum with about 5,000 valid voter signatures is turned in to the city clerk’s office within 30 days of the commission’s decision. If that happened, the raises would require voter approval.
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