Each member of the Spokane City Council could get a part-time assistant under a $110,000 plan inserted this week into the city’s proposed 2008 budget.
The extra staffing comes just before a new city committee is supposed to begin considering whether council members should be full-time employees and get pay boosts from the current $18,000 salary.
“What are we going to do, jack up the salary of council members and add additional staff?” said Councilman Brad Stark, the only one to vote against adding the money.
Council President Joe Shogan said that with or without higher pay, most council members consider their positions full-time and need additional staff support to better represent their constituents.
“The council members are pretty much doing 40 hours a week for $18,000,” Shogan said.
At a contentious budget hearing on Monday, the City Council added $225,000 – including the $110,000 boost to City Council spending – to former Mayor Dennis Hession’s proposed 2008 budget. That would leave unspent about $267,000, out of the $144 million general fund budget. The general fund pays for police, fire and other city services unrelated to utility operations.
Monday’s budget change, which also included some reductions, included an extra $200,000 for a proposed police ombudsman program and the creation of a “director of annexation” position at a cost of $70,000. That director would oversee efforts to expand the city boundaries.
A proposed $600,000 boost for street maintenance was rejected. It would have put the budget in the red.
The additional money for the City Council includes $15,000 for an assistant for every council member except Shogan, plus extra for security at meetings and to make the council’s current research assistant full-time.
Some council members argue that under the strong mayor system created by voters in 1999, the council has become weak. They say that additional staff would allow the City Council to conduct the research necessary to make more informed decisions.
But Stark noted that Mayor Mary Verner is moving City Council offices to the 5th floor of City Hall, where her office is located, in an effort to improve dialogue. Better communication and the closer proximity of Verner’s staff could make hiring council assistants unnecessary, he said.
In August, the council created a Salary Review Commission to evaluate their pay every two years. At the time, council members want the group to consider if their positions should be considered full-time. Members of the commission, which is expected to meet for the first time next year, haven’t been selected.
Verner has the power to veto parts of the budget, but that appears unlikely. City Administrator Ted Danek said Verner supports the additions, including Stark’s proposal to create a new director’s position to oversee annexation.
Under Hession’s leadership, the city took a more aggressive approach to incorporating county land into city limits and ultimately won support from the Spokane County Boundary Review Board to annex a strip of property along North Division Street.
Stark and other council members say they want someone to formulate a more concise plan to decide future annexation projects and to work more collaboratively with the county.
Shogan said he expects any remaining amendments to the budget to be considered at a 3 p.m. meeting Thursday at City Hall. Final approval is expected Monday.
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