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Salary cap for Spokane city employees part of budget reforms proposed by Ben Stuckart

UPDATED: Tue., March 20, 2018, 11:56 a.m.

FILE - Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and councilwoman Karen Stratton, seen here at City Hall in July 2016. Stuckart has proposed a salary cap on earnings at four times the median household income of Spokane, part of a package of revisions to the city’s budgeting process. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and councilwoman Karen Stratton, seen here at City Hall in July 2016. Stuckart has proposed a salary cap on earnings at four times the median household income of Spokane, part of a package of revisions to the city’s budgeting process. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

No Spokane city employee could earn more than $182,000 annually under a package of changes to City Hall’s budgeting process being proposed by Council President Ben Stuckart.

“We’re not the private sector, we’re the public sector,” said Stuckart, who doesn’t expect a vote on the measure until next month at the earliest. “We’ve got to hold the line somewhere.”

The law would cap earnings for City Hall’s roughly 3,000 employees, including part-time help, at four times the median household income in Spokane. That would institute a salary cap of $182,000 for this year, the council president said. Stuckart said his research indicated the restriction would only potentially apply currently to two people working at City Hall – the police and fire chiefs.

City payroll data for 2017 received by The Spokesman-Review showed Police Chief Craig Meidl earned $176,861, and Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer made $159,989.

The new law would only apply to base salaries, not overtime amounts, though Stuckart said the city needed to address those mounting costs as well. The payroll records obtained by The Spokesman-Review showed that if overtime and other pay and benefits were included, nine city employees would be over the cap, including Meidl, six fire battalion chiefs and a shift supervisor at the city’s Waste-to-Energy plant.

Brian Coddington, a spokesman for Mayor David Condon, said the office had just received Stuckart’s proposal this week and he was reviewing its provisions. It was introduced at a committee meeting Monday afternoon between council members and city staff.

Tim Dunivant, the city’s finance director, said he’s working with Stuckart on the details of the proposal. In addition to the salary cap, the legislative package requires approval by city lawmakers before city jobs could be advertised, written justification for hiring new employees at a salary greater than the minimum written into the city’s budget and a requirement that vacant positions intended for employees not represented by public sector unions by filled within 60 days, or the money would expire and return to the general fund for other purposes.

Dunivant was concerned about the 60-day rule, noting that the city was in active recruitment for a retirement director for two years before someone was hired. Jobs outside of the civil service process, where potential employees test for a job and are ranked for placement, often take longer to fill, and the two-month time limit could inhibit that, Dunivant said.

“We don’t have a backup list for finance director, for example,” Dunivant said. Stuckart said he would be open to a longer period, perhaps up to four months, for a job to remain vacant before salary money is forfeited.

The legislation treats non-union represented potential employees differently than union jobs because of concerns over labor laws, Stuckart said.

Stuckart said he intended the legislation to address what he called a messy budget process last year, in which the City Council held up approval of the 2018 spending plan over concerns about plans in the Public Works Division. The council approved a budget with some revisions, including a requirement that the administration hire four new clerks to handle billing for city water, sewer and trash services as well as five new truck drivers to haul garbage after last year’s significantly larger year for trash collection.

Those positions, which would be union-represented and thus not subject to Stuckart’s new 60-day rule, have not been hired yet, Coddington said. Public works officials are still discussing the need for those new hires.

The salary cap provision and other budget amendments have not been placed on the City Council’s calendar. Stuckart said he expected a vote in three to four weeks.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that certain public employees would be over the $182,000 proposed cap if overtime and other benefits and pay were included in the calculation.


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