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Citizen commission to evaluate pay raises for Spokane Valley City Council

Spokane Valley City Council members listen during a meeting on Tuesday, July 10, 2018, in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Valley City Council members listen during a meeting on Tuesday, July 10, 2018, in Spokane Valley, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Valley is planning to appoint a five-person citizen salary commission to evaluate a pay increase for city council members.

The salary proposal was prompted by public testimony from a citizen who suggested at a July council meeting that it had been several years since City Council received a raise.

Spokane Valley council members currently receive $9,000 per year, which was approved in 2006 by a citizen salary commission. The volunteer commission met several times over a year, analyzed salary information from more than 250 cities in the state and recommended a pay increase to $750 per month for council members and $975 per month for the mayor.

When Spokane Valley incorporated as a city in 2003, council’s pay was $400 per month, with the mayor receiving $500 per month.

At an Aug. 21 council meeting, Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell presented council members with two options: adopt an ordinance for a salary increase, or appoint a citizen salary commission that would work with a staff liaison to review salaries and determine what the council should be paid.

Spokane Valley Councilwoman Pam Haley said she’d feel more comfortable with citizens deciding a salary amount rather than city council members.

Annual compensation for Valley council members is about a fifth of the salary for city of Spokane council members, who this year received a pay raise to $46,700 annually. The pay increase for Spokane council members was approved by Spokane’s Salary Review Commission in June and will take effect in 2019.

In addition to attending meetings, members represent the city on various regional boards and commissions as well as at state and national levels. Most take part in community organizations.

Spokane Valley Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said she was surprised a citizen came forward suggesting a raise.

“Obviously, people don’t get in this field for money, but it’s definitely nice to have extra income for the time we spend on council,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a part-time job, but it ends up being a full-time job.”

Peetz added that she agrees with Haley’s recommendation to appoint a salary commission rather than decide pay raises by an ordinance.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to dictate what our salaries are,” she said. “It needs to be an effort that comes from the citizens. It needs to be public, open and transparent as possible.”

Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Linda Thompson said a pay increase could help attract people to run for a City Council position.

“It does help for those thinking about serving in capacity of council … it ensures that there is enough money to help sustain life because it does take a lot of time,” she said. “I think it’s reasonable to take a look at it.”

Thompson said if she were to receive a future pay raise, she would donate funds to help support the Spokane Valley Youth Voice program, or other community events to foster a connection between the city and residents.

Spokane Valley Councilman Arne Woodard said the time commitment for elected office can cost money, especially for independent business owners or full-time employees who have to take off from work for council duties.

“It does keep some people from running for a local municipal position because what you give up is huge,” he said.

Spokane Valley Councilman Ben Wick said he’s open to the idea of a salary committee.

“But I’m not here for the money,” he said. “If someone else wants to recommend (a salary increase), I’m fine with it.”

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said the citizen salary commission will be a good check-and-balance system.

“I think the council took the right way, rather than saying, ‘we’re going to raise the salary, period,’ they let some independent salary commission do it,” Higgins said.

The city’s next step is to update city code from 2006 to allow for a future salary commission and then put out a request for applications from residents wanting to volunteer for the commission.

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