Many Tri-City mayors, council members paid part-time salaries for full-time work

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 1, 2013 

Rich Buel

Rich Buel, West Richland's mayor pro tem, works in his office at the Federal Building in Richland. Since Buel was first elected 13 years ago, the city council has not taken any action to change the pay scale in West Richland. Their council members, at $4,200 a year, earn less than their counterparts in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, according to a Herald review of base salaries at more than 30 local governments and public agencies.

RICHARD DICKIN — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Few Tri-City public officials can claim to have gone without a pay raise for 13 years.

West Richland City Council members can.

Since Rich Buel, West Richland's mayor pro tem, was first elected 13 years ago, council has not taken any action to change the pay scale, he said.

The state constitution prohibits public officials from voting themselves current pay raises. Raises they vote for do not take effect until after the next election.

West Richland's council members, at $4,200 a year, earn less than their counterparts in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, according to a Herald review of base salaries at more than 30 local governments and public agencies.

The same goes for West Richland Mayor Donna Noski, who is retiring at the end of the year. She is paid $6,600 for a job she turned into full time when she chose to eliminate the city administrator position.

Both candidates running for her position in the November general election have said they will continue to keep the mayor position full time.

"Times are tough," Buel said. "The city doesn't have a lot of money."

West Richland is trying to grow its tax base, which is smaller than the rest of the Tri-Cities, he said. Its sales tax income, in particular, is quite small. And state funding has been cut.

Kennewick has not changed the base pay its mayor and council members earn since 2007.

Mayor Steve Young is paid about $14,000 a year for a position that can eat up about 35 hours a week on top of his full-time job as a vice president of Mission Support Alliance. Mayor pro tem Don Britain is paid about $13,000 a year. All other council members are paid about $12,000 a year.

Changing the compensation for the next set of elected council members is a topic that has come up, but hasn't really been talked about much, Young said.

Young feels it would be irresponsible to raise city council pay when the city has laid off staff and eliminated vacant positions, he said.

Meanwhile, Pasco City Council has adjusted council pay every few years in the past decade, said Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins.

Watkins will earn less than $16,000 this year, the same as last year. Other council members will earn $12,000, also unchanged from a year ago. Both base pay salaries are up about $2,000 from where they were in 2007.

"I feel that I am fairly compensated," said Watkins, who estimates that council work takes about 15 hours a week.

Unlike the other three cities, Richland's council pay has increased from last year. Council members will earn about $13,000 this year, up about $200 from last year. Mayor John Fox will earn about $16,000, up $200 from last year.

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