The Pasco City Council agreed this week to keep its merit bonus system in place for management employees, but to stop using other cities for comparison.
The practice of giving merit awards to city staff has come under criticism recently, largely from Pasco resident John Talbott, a former Spokane mayor.
The merit awards are needed because cities across the state pay their employees more than Pasco, officials have said. In addition, Richland and Kennewick use deferred compensation, in which pay automatically goes into a retirement fund.
The council was provided with a sheet comparing the 2013 salaries and deferred compensation of 18 management employees in Pasco and their counterparts in several similar-size cities, including Kennewick and Richland. It showed managers in eight other cities averaging 12 percent high pay than Pasco's.
But council members said Monday that what other cities do shouldn't play into Pasco's bonuses. Most felt it was a good way to reward employees, especially those who help the city save money in other areas.
"I think it's a good investment," Councilman Bob Hoffmann said. "The math speaks for itself."
The city needs to be careful about giving out the awards, Councilman Al Yenney said.
"I don't think merit pay should be tied to compensation," he said. "A merit award is something extra that shouldn't be tied to a wage package."
City Manager Gary Crutchfield took issue with people who call the awards "bonuses."
"While some citizens in every community will view merit awards with disdain (and prefer to use the term "bonus" in an effort to conjure up the ugly notion of Wall Street millionaires), the fact of the matter is that Pasco taxpayers benefit greatly (and clearly measurably) by the incentivized actions of Pasco's managers," Crutchfield wrote in a memo to the council.
Crutchfield plans to give $50,000 in awards to his staff this year, he said.
w The council discussed setting a March 17 public hearing on recovering $29,224 from Octavio Rodriguez of West Richland, owner of the Liberty Theater building that burned last year. Crutchfield said the city filed a lien against Rodriguez because he hasn't paid the city back for demolishing and removing unsafe parts of the building after the fire last Aug. 13. The city is looking to make the money Rodriguez owes part of his property taxes.
w The council discussed charging a $700 per home fee for people connecting to city water in Pasco's urban growth area, either from new homes being built or people switching from wells. Crutchfield said the money is needed to make up for the city having to buy new water rights.
w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom