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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commission recommends doubling salaries for Spokane Valley City Council

The Spokane Valley City Council is receiving pay raises for the first time in 13 years – nearly doubling the amount members receive – based on recommendations from a citizen salary commission.

The five-person independent salary commission, appointed by the city last year on a volunteer basis, was tasked with discussing and evaluating pay raises for city officials.

The commission recommended the mayor receive $1,775 a month and council members receive $1,415 a month, effective in February.

Spokane Valley council members receive $9,000 annually – wages approved by a citizen salary commission in 2006 – which equates to $750 per month for council members. Pay for the mayor has been $975 per month.

“I think the entire (salary) committee was concerned it was 13 years since they had a raise,” said Bill Gothmann, chair of the salary commission and a former Spokane Valley city councilman. “And, also, the city of the Valley has grown since 2003 and now we’re above 95,000 people, so the responsibility has gone up, too.”

The salary proposal was prompted by public testimony from a citizen who suggested at a council meeting last year that it had been more than a decade since City Council received a raise.

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.

City officials opted to appoint a salary commission.

The commission considered three factors for pay raises: the amount of time the City Council spent on city-related duties, a market analysis of city official salaries in comparable cities and a citizen survey.

The salary commission analyzed pay rates of mayors and council members for several cities in the state, eventually narrowing the list down to nine comparable cities based on population and council-manager form of government: Lacey, Olympia, Shoreline, Burien, Richland, Pasco, Kennewick, Kirkland and Yakima.

Yakima, at a population of 93,000 – the most comparable to Spokane Valley’s population out of the nine cities – pays its mayor $1,375 and council members $1,075 per month.

(By comparison, Spokane City Council members received a pay raise last year to $46,700 annually. The pay increase, approved by Spokane’s Salary Review Commission, takes effect this year.)

Gothmann said the Valley commission found that council members spend more than 35 hours a week attending meetings, representing the city on various regional boards and commissions as well as at state and national levels. Most also take part in community organizations.

A question arose among the commission about council members’ health benefits at an average cost of $1,500 a month, but it decided to focus solely on salaries, noting that the benefits policy was adopted when the city was incorporated in 2003, according to city documents.

While the salary commission didn’t propose a full salary for Spokane Valley city officials, they felt the city should compensate them at a higher rate.

“We asked if they are getting at least minimum wage and the answer was no,” Gothmann said.

Their calculation was based on last year’s minimum wage rate of $11 an hour for 30 hours a week with a 25 percent bonus for the mayoral position.

The salary commission recommended the city form a commission every three years to consider gradual pay increases over time.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said while city officials – including himself – didn’t run for the salary, it was time to look into an increase.

Spokane Valley Councilwoman Linda Thompson believes the salary increase is adequate compensation for council members.

Thompson plans to use her pay increase to support the Spokane Valley Youth Voice program or donate to community organizations.

“I just think that it’s important to give back to the community,” she said. “It’s part of being a leader and representing the community as someone who gives back.”

Spokane Valley Councilman Ben Wick agreed the pay raise is adequate for 35 hours a week.

“When you compare it to a dollar-per-hour rate, it’s a good value for the citizens,” he said. “I was shocked by the amount. We weren’t really asking for a large increase, we just wanted to see what the citizens were thinking.”