Despite more than two decades of difference in experience, the three Tri-City city managers are paid a difference of no more than $2,000 in base salary.
Pasco's Gary Crutchfield, who has served as city manager for more than 28 years, is the top earner at about $153,600 this year.
Richland's Cindy Johnson, who has served as city manager for about six years, has a base salary only $200 lower, at about $153,400.
Kennewick's Marie Mosley, who became city manager three years ago, will earn a base salary of about $151,600 this year.
That puts all three city managers among the top 20 highest-paid Mid-Columbia public officials, based on a Herald review of base salaries at about 30 local governments and public agencies.
Of the three, only Mosley doesn't receive an annual incentive pay award, which can add as much as $10,000 a year to the pay of Pasco and Richland city managers.
Instead, a raise in her base salary is tied to a performance review for Mosley, who is essentially a CEO overseeing a large budget, Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said.
Mosley gives the city council her annual goals and objectives, which council can modify, Young said. Her success on those goals and objectives helps the council determine how much of a raise she will get.
Young said it's bothered him some that Mosley doesn't get a bonus when the other two Tri-City city managers do.
But, "I think it is the fair way for all city managers to be compensated," he said. "I'm not a big proponent for bonuses."
Politically, incentive pay can be a target, Richland Mayor John Fox said. But the Richland City Council has elected to use incentive pay rather than granting a permanent base salary increase for the city manager, who oversees an electric utility, garbage service and library, among other duties.
"I think so far all of our council has felt this is a sensible and fair way to do it," he said.
The Richland City Council has awarded Johnson up to $10,000 in incentive pay a year based on her performance on specific goals, Fox said. Those goals are things that would be above and beyond the normal duties of a city manager, such as working toward a regional consolidation of 911 dispatch.
Pasco City Council also has chosen to use a merit award rather than restructuring its salary system. That's because Crutchfield, one of the state's longest-serving city managers, has been at the top of his salary range for at least 20 years, said Matt Watkins, Pasco's mayor.
"He's overqualified for his position," Watkins said.
Crutchfield's only raise beyond his base pay is the cost of living adjustments other nonunion managers receive, Watkins said.
Instead, Crutchfield does a self-assessment each year and the city council discusses his performance in a closed-door session, Watkins said. In general, they have decided in open session to award $8,000 to $10,000 in merit awards each year.
If the Pasco City Council decided to change the base pay range for the city manager, it also would have to change the range for other managers, Watkins said. And the city couldn't just go back to the old range once Crutchfield decides to retire.
"He's saved taxpayers a tremendous amount of money over the years," he said.