Pasco council votes to give nonunion employees raises

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldDecember 16, 2013 

The Pasco City Council voted Monday to give a total of $237,000 in pay raises to nonunion city employees.

The raises include 1 percent cost-of-living increases, along with money intended to get Pasco employees' average salaries and wages more in line with those in eight other similarly sized Washington cities: Kennewick, Richland, Wenatchee, Walla Walla, Mt. Vernon, Longview, Marysville and Bremerton.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the amount of each employee's raise would depend on how far behind the other cities he or she is in pay.

The pay increase impacts workers and managers outside the police, fire and public works departments, which have salaries negotiated as part of union contracts.

Some of the five council members who voted in favor of the increases emphasized the importance of keeping up with peer cities.

Replacing a lost employee can end up costing more in training a replacement than paying workers more, Councilman Saul Martinez said.

"I know how hard it is to keep employees as a business owner," he said. "When somebody else is offering something that's a little bit better, that person is just waiting for a position to open so they can leave."

Councilman Tom Larsen, who voted against the raises, disagreed.

"The police and the fire are locked in by the unions, the others aren't," he said. "These others are easy to replace."

But the city has seen a number of jobs with few qualified applicants, including openings for finance manager and human resources director, Crutchfield said.

"That tells me that the wage or salary is a deterrent," he said. "It's getting to be slim pickings."

Councilman Bob Hoffmann, the other member to vote against the raises, said he would like to see them implemented over multiple years instead of at one time.

The increase means Crutchfield could be paid up to $161,196 in 2014, up from $153,636 this year. That does not include a bonus the council could still award.

Also Monday:

- The council approved a list of priorities for the 2014 state legislative session. They include seeking a share of state marijuana tax revenue for cities and setting up an arbitration system for resolving public records disputes. But council's arguments focused on asking for money from a state transportation package to help pay for a new Lewis Street overpass downtown.

Again, Hoffmann and Larsen opposed the measure. Hoffmann said supporting the transportation package was calling for a gas tax increase "by implication," while Larsen called the proposed overpass a "monstrosity."

Mayor Matt Watkins told the council he fears a non-unanimous vote might make it difficult to get the legislature to support the overpass, which has been one of the city's legislative priorities for at least 10 years. The project's projected cost has ballooned to $35 million.

"It's not a monstrosity, it's a needed link between two halves of our community," Watkins said. "Unless it's unanimous, I think it's another year and another year before we can get this thing done."

-- The council gave final approval to Pasco's 2014 operating and capital projects budget. The city has a total budget of $143.7 million, with a general fund of $44.5 million for day-to-day operations like police and parks.

-- The council renewed a contract with Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs for lobbying in Washington, D.C. The contract pays $60,000 for 2014.

-- The council reappointed David L. Petersen as municipal court judge at a salary of $108,408 per year.

-- The council approved a sewer system extension agreement for the Commercial-Kahlotus service area. The city will pay no more than $55,000, 17 percent, of the project's cost, with the industrial property owners in the area picking up the rest.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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