Residents, not council, would set elected salaries with Tacoma charter change

Sixteen years ago, the Tacoma City Council boosted the pay of council members and mayors by 60 percent to better reflect the amount of time involved in doing the jobs.

At the same time, the council put in place automatic 2.75 percent cost-of-living increases. Those raises, over time, have boosted the mayor’s salary from $64,000 approved by the 1998 council to well over $90,000 today.

Now some want to delegate the decision about council and mayor salaries to a seven-member citizen salary commission. Amendment 9, one of a dozen city charter amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot, would establish that commission.

Jim Merritt, a member of the Charter Review Committee that proposed the change, said the proposal was based on a similar commission that decides the salaries of Pierce County elected officials.

That panel, which met for the first time two years ago, is recommending a 2.5 percent increase for 11 elected county officials in 2015.

Merritt said a city salary commission would remove the politics from setting salaries and “allow it to be totally independent.”

Five of the seven members of the proposed Citizen Commission on Elected Salaries would be selected at random from registered voters, one from each council district. The last two would be picked by the mayor and must have a legal or human resource management background, the amendment states.

Supporters say the commission structure is similar to those in Bellevue, Spokane, Vancouver and Everett.

The commission would have the authority to set the salaries and any salary changes for the mayor and council.

Last year, City Council members earned $41,267 and the mayor earned $91,042.

The city’s elected officials also receive some benefits. Council members can receive the same medical and dental benefits as part-time city employees, and the mayor is paid a monthly car allowance of $550 per month.

Sherry Bockwinkel, who opposes the citizen salary commission, called it a “pay raise commission.” In the voter pamphlet statement she co-wrote, she said the council put the amendment on the ballot hoping the commission would vote to raise salaries, and that its passage does not guarantee that the current 2.75 percent increases wouldn’t continue.

City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said the salary commission could weigh in on whether to keep the 2.75 percent automatic raises.