Politics & Government

Tacoma salary commission cuts elected pay in 2018

Tacoma’s elected mayor and City Council members are headed for a big pay cut in 2018.

That is, if the city’s first Citizen Commission on Elected Salaries sticks by the decision outlined in its initial report filed this week.

Voters created the seven-member commission last year by amending the city charter. According to the charter change, the commission’s decision must be accepted by the council without modification.

“Such authority is sobering and one the Commission did not take lightly,” the group wrote in its report.

The mayor would make $76,000 in 2018 under the commission’s plan. That’s 25 percent less than the mayor is on track to make in 2017 thanks to automatic annual pay increases.

Council members would make $38,000 starting in 2018, roughly 17 percent less than the $46,006 salaries they are due to get in 2017.

Commission members could not be reached for comment, but in their report the majority said it was “concerned with what appear to be elected official salaries significantly out of step” with salaries in other cities with similar forms of government.

The mayor is now earning $96,117 and council members receive $43,576. Those amounts have steadily climbed since 1998, when the then-mayor and council approved automatic 2.75 percent annual pay raises. The salary commission decided the automatic wage increases will cease in 2018.

Also going away: the bonus for the City Council member who serves as deputy mayor to compensate for extra duties. That position, which rotates among council members, is currently paid $4,700 extra.

The commission’s report also includes a unsigned minority opinion. Member Joe Zawacki, a small business owner, voted against the majority report at the commission’s last meeting and said he would be writing a minority report.

Reducing elected salaries might prevent someone from running for office if the amount is too low, the dissenting opinion states: “By reducing the salary, citizens simply may not realistically be able to serve and still support household obligations.”

Councilman David Boe, who is not running for re-election, said Tacoma’s elected officials should not make so much that they become professional politicians; they still need to have real-life experiences in Tacoma. He said the commission’s decision is a good first attempt.

But is the salary commission’s amount too little?

“That would be a concern,” Boe said. “Council members may have to raise and spend more money to get a four-year job (as a council member) than they would earn on the four-year job.”

The mayor and council members collectively serve on more than 45 different city, regional and national committees. Many council members hold jobs in addition to their council duties.

“This is a part-time job with full-time expectations,” Boe said. “You can’t just take an afternoon off from your day job. It becomes something you’ve got to work your day job around.”

The commission, whose members serve three-year terms, could decide to change its mind. In its report, the group said its work for the year is not done.

The members complained that the city gave them only a few weeks to reach a decision and said they plan to continue to study the appropriate wage for Tacoma’s elected officials.

In mid-March, the Pierce County Auditor’s Office sent the city five names and contact information for five registered voters were selected at random, one from each of the city’s council districts. The City Council did not appoint the panel, which also includes two mayoral appointees, until the end of July. The city charter says the commission must produce a decision by Sept. 1.

Commission members said that was not enough time to research what the elected officials do with their time, how they ought to be compensated for their efforts, and how Tacoma elected officials’ duties compare to those in surrounding governments.

Strickland, whose term ends in 2017, called the commission’s concern “legitimate.” She said the council was too busy with topics like minimum wage and paid sick leave to appoint the salary commission earlier.

Last year, Councilman Marty Campbell voted against asking voters to create a salary commission because he feared a commission would greatly increase the wage, perhaps to as much as the Pierce County Council members earn. Those elected officials make $107,602 per year.

Campbell said Wednesday he was pleased with the commission’s report. The $38,000 council pay set by the commission is about what Campbell said he earned when he was first elected in 2009.

“I think it’s a good wage for anyone in public service,” Campbell said. “We are brought into this job for the service, not for the wage.”

Elected officials’ salaries

Select cities in Washington state, listed with the salaries their elected officials earn.

City

Population

Mayor

Council member

Seattle

626,600

$183,036

$119,976

Spokane

211,300

$179,484

$31,200

Tacoma

200,400

$96,117

$48,069

Vancouver

164,500

$27,600

$21,600

Bellevue

132,100

$23,400

$19,800

Kent

120,500

$138,000

$14,096

Federal Way

89,720

$115,620

$13,800

Kirkland

81,730

$17,136

$13,464

Auburn

73,235

$136,823

$14,400

Lakewood

58,310

$10,800

$8,400

Olympia

48,480

$19,968

$16,632

Puyallup

37,980

$16,400

$14,043

University Place

31,340

$20,256

$16,896

Source: Municipal Research and Services Center, city of Spokane

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