Tacoma council to vote on $5.1 million in pay hikes

Staff writerMay 6, 2013 

Editor's note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated $2.5 million as the total amount of pay raises budgeted for 17 general government positions affected by the measure. According to city officials, that figure actually represents the total amount of employee pay budgeted for all 17 positions, including the expected pay raises. If the measure is approved, the total amount of pay raises expected for general government employees is about $145,000 above what's currently in the budget.

The total amount of pay raises cited in the story for TPU employees -- $4.7 million over two years -- is accurate.

UPDATE 5:45 p.m.: City Manager T.C. Broadnax now says the two-year cost for the general-government raises is $363,000, bringing the overall cost of the raises going before the council to about $5.1 million.

More than 400 nonunion city workers – mostly Tacoma Public Utilities employees – are set to receive what officials are calling “market-driven rate adjustments” and other pay increases totaling $5.1 million over the next two years, under a proposal headed for a City Council vote Tuesday.

If approved, the measure would substantially raise the pay scale for a number of high-profile general government and public utilities positions, leading to immediate pay hikes for some workers ranging from 5 percent to nearly 20 percent.

Tacoma’s police and fire chiefs and the city’s TPU director – now the highest paid position in the city – are among those set to get big pay boosts.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell and Fire Chief Jim Duggan, who both now earn less than assistants they supervise, stand to receive 13 percent raises, or more than $10 more per hour. In all, each chief would receive a salary boost of more than $20,000 per year.

Utilities Director Bill Gaines, who is now paid nearly $310,000 per year, would get an 18 percent hike, pushing his salary to nearly $366,000 annually.

Gaines said in an interview Monday that should the plan be adopted, he’ll recommend that he initially receive only about half of the $56,000 pay raise due to him.

“I think it’s a fairer level of pay,” he said. “It also allows the (TPU directors’) board some room to adjust my pay over time, if they choose to do so.”

At least one Tacoma City Council member is voicing opposition to the measure.

“How do we explain to the public that we’re giving (employee pay) rate increase after rate increase, while we’re cutting services and the economy remains stagnant,” asked Councilman Ryan Mello. “I think it’s difficult for the average ratepayer to see how they should swallow these pay raises in light of this economy and their own financial situations.”

Mello said his concerns primarily lie with the hikes slated for TPU workers, due to their size, timing and what he calls “fairness issues.”

While nonrepresented TPU workers are set to get pay bumps, Mello noted their counterparts in Tacoma’s general government utility jobs are not.

“It’s not fair to treat one division of city government vastly different than another,” Mello said. “That’s bad policy and horrible for morale.”

But TPU officials countered that utilities employees covered by the measure haven’t received a pay raise of any kind since early 2009.

“People that are shocked by the numbers really need to divide by four,” Gaines said. “That’s what the annual number of raises would be if we’d have kept up-to-date.”

Gaines added that the main reason the raises are necessary now is “for recruitment and retention.”

“In our industry, competitors are routinely raising and updating their pay ranges based on the market,” he said. “Most organizations do it annually. We haven’t done it for four years. It’s time.”

Gaines said Monday he couldn’t readily say how many employees have left TPU due to pay issues, but contends the utility has lost workers.

“It’s always hard to tell why — you can’t say it’s exclusively because of pay,” he said. “But when we do exit interviews, pay is one of the factors that we hear mentioned.”

Mello said he has regularly asked for proof of such employee retention problems, and he hasn’t gotten it.

“It has not been demonstrated to me that (workers) are leaving because they’re being underpaid,” he said.

In all, the measure would impact about 389 TPU employees in 94 job classifications. It calls for their respective multistep pay scales to be recalibrated, with the pay ceiling for each class set higher than about 60 percent of other public and private sector employees doing similar work. TPU budgeted for the raises, which would total $4.7 million.

“Really, all we’re doing is matching what the council said they wanted, which is salaries at the 60th percentile,” said TPU spokeswoman Chris Gleason, who stands to get a 16 percent raise, or about $19,000 more per year. “I don’t think it’s outside of the scope of what they directed.”

In February, the council amended its “compensation philosophy” to target the top-scale pay standard for city employees at the 60th percentile – a 10-notch drop from the city’s 70th percentile pay standard adopted in late 2008.

“But I don’t think the council necessarily expected (TPU) to get there (the 60th percentile) in one fell swoop,” Mello said. “If pay is out-of-whack, I think it’s more reasonable to take a couple of biennium to get there.”

Under the measure, not all TPU employees would get to the city pay goal immediately — but most would. In all, about two-thirds of employees affected by the measure already earn pay at the top of their current salary scales, Gleason said.

Because employees in 18 of TPU’s 94 affected job classes are paid at or above the 60th percentile standard, Gleason noted they were “red-lined” and won’t see any pay adjustments.

But the remaining 76 classifications stand to get varying pay hikes, she said. They include workers in 26 job classes set for pay increases from 0.1 percent to 5 percent; 32 classes that would get boosts of 5.1 percent to 10 percent; and 18 classes that stand to garner raises of 10 percent or more.

Some of those set to receive TPU’s biggest pay raises already earn some of the agency’s highest salaries, city payroll records show.

The annual salary for Patrick McCarty – the highest paid last year among seven Tacoma Power section managers set to receive 13.5 percent pay bumps – would jump from about $209,000 to about $237,000. Power Superintendent Ted Coates’ base salary would rise from about $240,000 per year to about $272,000.

But while city officials say the proposed TPU pay hikes are market-driven, the pay adjustments facing general government employees – $363,000 above what's currently in the budget – are being sought for another reason: compression.

“The only reason we’re recalibrating these is because we have supervisors that are now supervising employees that are encroaching on them in pay, or in many cases, actually making more than them,” City Manager T.C. Broadnax said.

That’s true for 16 employees in six general government classifications facing adjustments, Broadnax said, including positions of financial supervisor, information technology supervisor, senior real estate officer, and both the police and fire chiefs.

“Both of my chiefs — because of where their salaries are now and haven’t moved for several years — are making less than several of their assistants,” Broadnax said.

Broadnax added that the proposed adjustments on his side of city government are partly a product of pay raises negotiated in recent years with union employees. As union pay has collectively risen, it has pushed up against pay levels of nonunion managers, forcing such re-calibrations, he said.

The measure also calls to reset the pay scale for one other general government job class: the assistant to the city manager. That job is now held by Nadia Chandler, who was Broadnax’s $58,000-per-year management assistant in San Antonio.

Under the proposal, Chandler’s position in Tacoma would see a nearly 43 percent rise in its top pay grade, from about $87,000 per year to $124,000.

Chandler, who last year was paid at the slightly below top step rate of $83,000, would start off making somewhere less than the new top rung, city officials said.

The recalibration for Chandler’s position is long overdue, Broadnax said. The position is the only nonrepresented job classification of more than 500 citywide that wasn’t reviewed and updated during a market pay study in 2008.

Then-City Manager Eric Anderson “did not plan to use the assistant to the city manager classification, given that there was a deputy city manager and an assistant city manager,” Human Resources Director Joy St. Germain said.

After Broadnax was hired, he not only filled the vacant job but eliminated the higher-paid deputy manager position held by Rey Arellano. Chandler now takes on administrative, policy and management responsibilities, including supervising employees making far more than she does, Broadnax added.

Even if the assistant-to-the-manager pay scale is adjusted, Broadnax noted his office will see a savings of at least $87,000 — the difference between Arellano’s top pay rung and Chandler’s.

While Broadnax agreed some of the proposed raises may look “obnoxious” on their face, “most folks don’t understand the context.”

“There were a lot of things not done around here for a long time that needed to be done,” he said. “Now I’m getting caught in the crossfire for finally doing them.”

Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542

lewis.kamb@thenewstribune.com

TACOMA PAY RAISES

More than 400 nonunion city employees – mostly Tacoma Public Utilities workers – would receive market-driven adjustments to their city wage scales under a proposal set for City Council consideration Tuesday. In all, the measure proposes about $5.1 million in pay raises over the next two years. Here’s how some prominent city workers would be impacted:

Utilities director Bill Gaines

Top hourly pay rate now: $148.94

Top base salary now: $309,795

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $175.94

Proposed top annual pay rate: $365,955*

Percentage increase: 18.13

*Gaines said if the measure is approved, he plans to recommend that he only initially receive about half of the raise he’ll be due.

Power superintendent Ted Coates

Top hourly pay rate now: $115.48

Top base salary now: $240,198

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $130.98

Proposed top annual pay rate: $272,438

Percentage increase: 13.42

Power section manager Patrick McCarty

Top hourly pay rate now: $100.38

Top base salary now: $208,790

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $113.89

Proposed top annual pay rate: $236,891

Percentage increase: 13.46

Community & Media Services manager Chris Gleason

Top hourly pay rate now: $56.52

Top base salary now: $117,562

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $65.60

Proposed top annual pay rate: $136,448

Percentage increase: 16.07

Police Chief Don Ramsdell

Top hourly pay rate now: $82.67

Top base salary now: $171,954

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $93.56

Proposed top annual pay rate: $194,605

Percentage increase: 13.17

Fire Chief Jim Duggan

Top hourly pay rate now: $83.12

Top base salary now: $172,890

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $93.56

Proposed top annual pay rate: $194,605

Percentage increase: 12.56

Assistant to the city manager Nadia Chandler

Top hourly pay rate now: $41.76

Top base salary now: $86,861

Proposed top hourly pay rate: $59.64

Proposed top annual pay rate: $124,051

Percentage increase: 42.82

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