University Place Council votes to reduce its benefits, salary hikes
CHRISTIAN HILL; Staff writer
The University Place City Council has voted to slash its benefits and eliminate cash payouts and annual salary increases.
Most of the changes will take effect starting in 2012 because the state constitution bars changes in elected officials’ salaries during their current terms of office.
Since 2002, the city has provided its seven council members a monthly allowance toward medical, dental and vision coverage, which amounts to $1,233 a month this year. They can take it in cash if they don’t participate in a city insurance plan or use only a portion of the allowance to pay health costs.
Few comparable cities with populations between 20,000 and 40,000 provide benefits to their elected leaders, and none offers a cash payout option.
The vote Monday night was 6-1. Councilman Eric Choiniere, who said he wanted the benefits eliminated, voted no. Two other members, Mayor Debbie Klosowski and Councilwoman Caroline Belleci, shared the sentiment but acknowledged this was the next-best option, lacking the votes.
Councilman Ken Grassi said that City Council spending represents 1.5 percent of the total city budget, and elected leaders invest a lot of time in service. He added that he worries the issue pitted the elected leaders and staff members against one another.
The amenity has emerged as a point of contention in the community because council members have laid off employees, instituted unpaid days off and scaled back employees’ insurance coverage while their own salaries and benefits have increased.
Starting next year, council members will voluntarily sign up for the minimum employee-level plan to ensure eligibility to the insurance offered by the Association of Washington Cities. They will continue to receive the cash payouts.
The city has received a legal opinion that the allowance is considered salary because of the payout provision and therefore can’t be subject to a midterm adjustment.
Starting in 2012, the city will eliminate the cash payout for the three returning or new council members and pay their insurance premiums. The same rules will apply to council members whose terms of office begin in 2014.
The council also voted unanimously to eliminate their 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment. Grassi introduced an amendment, opposed by Klosowski, that could resurrect the COLA once it’s restored for city employees.
Council members draw $1,408 a month in salary, although the mayor and mayor pro tem earn more.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 firstname.lastname@example.org