Edmonds Salary Commission explains rationale for council, mayoral raises

Salary Commission Chair Jay Grant speaks to the City Council Tuesday. night.

Members of the Edmonds Salary Commission visited Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting to explain how they determined raises for the Edmonds mayor and city councilmembers that will become effective in January 2020.

Commission Chair Jay Grant said that commissioners looked at a range of factors to come up with their decision, which under state law is binding and can’t be changed.

The five commissioners are all unpaid volunteers who live in Edmonds. They are, in addition to Grant, Vice Chair Ava Dubno and Commissioners Jeff Hodson, Carl Zapora and Don Hall.

Among the factors they examined were historical compensation data for the city, along with compensation information from cities comparable to Edmonds in terms of salaries, benefits, their form of government (only comparing it to other cities that have “strong-mayor” as opposed to city manager systems), population, tax base and number of employees. They also examined cost of living allowances and trends and reviewed the city’s budget. In addition, the commission looked at compensation for special district (port, school and hospital district) CEOs and elected officials.

Grant stressed that the commission went beyond simply looking at comparable data for other cities, and focused on whether there were specific job responsibilities that could be used to measure whether the councilmembers were accountable to the voters.

Grant noted that the City of Lynnwood publishes a list of city councilmember responsibilities that lay out duties for the job, from policy making to land-use planning.

“We think it would be helpful if the (Edmonds City) Council would consider this same endeavor,” Grant said. “We believe it would be of assistance to the councilmembers, the public and salary commissioners in the future.”

The salary commission also conducted surveys of both councilmembers and citizens via a variety of outlets, including outreach to city boards and commissions, local news media, social media, service clubs and business groups.

More than 100 survey responses were received in one week, he said.

Among the questions asked in the survey were whether council compensation should be linked to accountability, such as consistent meeting attendance — an idea supported by 72 of those surveyed. The survey also asked whether the additional $200-per-month compensation currently provided to the council president — who sets meeting agendas and chairs council meetings —  is commensurate for duties performed. A total of 58 agreed that it was adequate while 40 disagreed.

In addition, Grant shared a range of citizen comments that the commissioners received both as part of the survey and during public meetings they held on the topic. “These people are making multimillion dollar decisions for our community and we pay them $1K or so a month,” said one commenter. “It is demeaning and inappropriate to pay them so little,” added another.

Regarding the issue of accountability, one commenter suggested that the city “consider an ongoing report card or dashboard of publicly available performance metrics for each councilmember.”

And another offered a different point of view: “Serving the city should be its own compensation. Council salaries are fine where they are.”

“Our conclusion is that the city’s citizens do take notice,” Grant said. “They want to hear from councilmembers and the mayor on a regular basis.” Citizens also want the mayor and councilmembers to receive “reasonable compensation for their work,” he said.

In describing the commission’s recommendations, Grant noted that in some cases the commission had to go “far and wide” to find comparable cities. That’s because some of the surrounding cities are much larger than Edmonds and many have city manager rather than “strong mayor” forms of government. The average mayoral salary for the area is $143,950 while the Edmonds mayor’s salary is currently $125,940, Grant said.

The commission gave the mayor a 4% raise, bringing that salary to $130,972 effective Jan. 1, 2020, plus an additional 4% raise on Jan. 1, 2021, increasing it to $136,211.

Then Grant moved on to the Edmonds City Council pay vs. that of comparable cities. Those results were “a bit different,” he said, in that the Edmonds council pay of $1,250 a month or $15,000 a year was higher than the average of comparable cities — $1,188 a month or $14,256 a year. However, the commission noted factors that may account for this discrepancy, including that some cities had not raised their council’s salaries in some time and that they also don’t have a salary commission. The latter means that in order to increase their compensation, councilmembers would have to vote themselves a raise, which can be a challenge.

The commission decided that city councilmembers will receive an additional $1,000 per year in January 2021, bringing their total annual compensation to $16,000, plus an additional $1,000 annual raise in 2022, to make their salary $17,000.

Both the mayor and councilmembers also receive the same health benefits package as non-represented city employees, and the salary commission determined that health benefits will stay the same. Those would change in the future “only if the benefits package offered to non-represented employees changes (either plan, or contribution rate),” the commission said. (The dollar value of that benefits package wasn’t available Tuesday night but we have requested it and will share that as soon as we receive it.)

Finally, the commission decided that the additional compensation of council president — now $200 per month on top of the councilmembers’ base salary — should increase by $100 per month starting in January of 2020, for a total of $300 a month.

Grant also shared what financial impact the raises would have on the city budget. For 2020, the combined salary increases would be $13,237 while in 2021 they would be $13,439.

The council also had a busy evening of proclamations and recognitions, including:

Edmonds-Woodway Deaf Academic Bowl team members receiving the DeafThrive Day proclamation from Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling (far right) include, from left: Assistant Coach Corey Clark, students Nolan Roush, Jason Shields and Chelsea Beck; and Coach Lori Seago.

– A proclamation by Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling of DeafThrive Day 2019 on Sept. 21, 2019, in honor of all of the contributions of Edmonds’ deaf community. Those appearing to be honored and accept the proclamation were several Edmonds-Woodway High School deaf students who recently won the Deaf Academic Bowl.

Edmonds-Woodway students Juva McAfee and Emily Hood receive their proclamations Tuesday night.

– A proclamation for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, aimed at raising support, funding and awareness of childhood cancers and the impact for sufferers and the families of those suffering from childhood cancer. Edmonds-Woodway students present to accept the proclamation were Emily Hood, who  has been fighting an inoperable tumor on her brain stem, and Jura McAfee, who was diagnosed in March 2018 with Burkitt Lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The proclamation notes that pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children, and that there has been a 24 percent increase in pediatric cancer cases over the last 40 years.

– Recognition of the city’s wastewater treatment plant for receiving an Outstanding Performance Award from the Washington State Department of Ecology for 2018.

In other business, the council:

– Awarded a construction contract for $298,680 to the Zeigler Company to modernize the elevator in Edmonds City Hall. The elevator was installed in 1979 and needs a major overhaul.

– Approved a memorandum of understanding between the Edmonds School District and Edmonds Police Department regarding use of video surveillance footage in emergency situations.

– Approved an ordinance amending ECC 5.38 (offenses related to lewd conduct) to allow for criminal charges to be brought in Edmonds Municipal Court against individuals who share intimate images of another in certain situations.

– Reviewed a questionnaire to be used in the council’s comparative study of in-house city attorney services vs. existing external city attorney services. The results of that study aren’t expected until early November.

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

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