Spokane Valley elected officials are getting 27% raises – but they’ll still make less than minimum wage.
It wasn’t City Council’s call. The decision fell to an independent, volunteer salary commission the council created in January.
The salary commission decided City Council members deserved a raise from $17,000 to $21,600 a year. The mayor’s salary will increase from $21,300 to $27,000 annually.
“I think it’s probably about right,” City Councilman Rod Higgins said.
Given their estimated 30-hour work week, council members will now make $13.84 an hour, which is less than Washington’s $14.49 minimum wage. The mayor brings home a little less, at $13.31 an hour, based on an estimated 39-hour work week.
Spokane Valley City Council hasn’t had a pay raise since 2019. Before that, City Council salaries were conspicuously low.
They didn’t budge from 2006 to 2019. City Council members earned $9,000 a year during that stretch. The 2019 pay increase amounted to an 89% raise which many argued was long overdue.
Washington law gives Spokane Valley two ways to adjust City Council salaries.
City Council can give itself a raise if it wants. But there’s a catch.
Council members who approve a pay increase for themselves can’t receive the raise during their current term in office. In other words, they can pass a salary increase but they won’t benefit from it unless they win re-election and come back for another term.
Creating an independent salary commission is the second option and it’s the only method Spokane Valley has used in its 19-year existence.
To form the commission, Spokane Valley first sought volunteers. Mayor Pam Haley then appointed five of those volunteers and City Council unanimously approved her appointments.
The salary commission asked three questions when making its decision to adjust council member salaries.
First, how hard do council members work? Second, how much do council members make in similar cities? And third, what do Valley residents think would be a fair salary?
City Council answered the first question. They reported working an average of about 25 hours a week. The mayor reported working an average of 35 hours a week.
Those numbers were lower than they’ve been historically, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the salary commission assumed a 30-hour work week for a council member and a 39-hour week for the mayor.
To answer the second question, the salary commission looked at Washington cities roughly the same size as the Valley.
The Valley has 104,000 residents. The closest comparable cities were Kennewick, a city of 86,000, and Kirkland, which has 92,000 residents. Those cities pay councilmembers $15,300 annually. Bellevue, with 150,000 residents, pays its councilmembers $28,700.
A short community survey answered the third question.
Nearly 60% of the 135 survey respondents said council members should receive some level of raise while about 40% wanted City Council salaries to either stay the same or decrease.
The salary commission’s final report is on City Council’s Tuesday agenda, but the council has no say over the raises.
The raises technically aren’t a foregone conclusion. Someone could file a referendum petition with the City Clerk within the next month. But it’s likely the raises will go into effect in mid-April, a month after the city has properly noticed a summary report of the raises in the Spokane Valley News Herald, the official city newspaper.
City Councilwoman Laura Padden thanked the salary commission for its work and said she’s glad they kept salaries relatively low.
“They volunteered their time and they did a pretty good balancing act between taxpayer interests and the needs of City Council members,” Padden said. “I think they actually came up with a good number.”
Attempts to get comment from members of the salary commission on Monday were unsuccessful.