The Pasco City Council voted 5-2 this week to give City Manager Gary Crutchfield an $8,000 performance bonus.
Those voting in favor credited Crutchfield for helping the city find ways to save money during a time of growth.
"For a man who has been with a city for nearly 30 years, it's easy to get used to an exceptional performance," Mayor Matt Watkins said Tuesday night after a nearly half-hour closed session discussion on Crutchfield. "I think he goes above and beyond his job performance."
Councilmen Al Yenney and Tom Larsen voted against the bonus.
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Councilman Bob Hoffmann, who voted against a $12,000 bonus for Crutchfield in 2013 because he felt it was too large, voted in favor of the merit award this year, saying it's a more reasonable amount.
Yenney's problem with the bonus wasn't related to Crutchfield's job performance, he told the Herald Wednesday. He dislikes the entire process of merit awards.
"The city manager does a really good job, but a lot of things that are in (the bonus) are job-oriented," he said. "That's what you're hired for."
Council initially discussed a merit award for Crutchfield at its Jan. 6 meeting, but took no action because Hoffmann and Yenney were absent.
Watkins would not allow John Talbott, who has been speaking against city bonuses at council meetings for months, to address council before Tuesday's vote. Talbott, a former Spokane mayor, has said the city has awarded more than $1 million in merit awards since 2000.
Talbott confronted Watkins after the meeting, telling him, "You're not a real mayor."
Watkins responded by pointing out Talbott's one-term status as Spokane mayor.
On Wednesday, Watkins told the Herald, "First and foremost, it is the council's meeting. Council members are elected to represent the public. We don't have to let everybody weigh in at every single turn."
Yenney disagreed, saying Talbott should have been allowed to speak, even though the mayor does have the right to cut off public comment at a business meeting.
"I feel that every citizen who has taken his time and done any research, even if I don't agree with him, I'm a believer that every citizen should have the three minutes," Yenney said.
The bonus boosts Crutchfield's pay from the city for 2014 to more than $169,000, when combined with his salary of $161,196. While his base pay is higher than his counterparts in Kennewick and Richland, a memo Crutchfield sent to council members shows that Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley will make $170,000 because of deferred compensation, while Richland City Manager Cindy Johnson will make $183,000 because of deferred compensation and a $10,000 merit award.
"The bottom line is Mr. Crutchfield, considering his experience, is underpaid compared to his peer city managers," Watkins said.
In other business Tuesday, the council:
-- Voted to increase the rates for several utilities. The city's base water rate will rise to $16.25 a month, a 30-percent increase over the current $12.50, effective Feb. 1. The money will go toward the city's new hydrant flushing program, as well as adding new hydrants in the area west of 20th Avenue.
The vote also raises monthly ambulance fees to $7.25 per residence from $6.25.
Crutchfield said the city wants to get the amount it subsidizes the ambulance service from its general fund down to $420,000 from $1.1 million in 2013. A large number of Medicare and Medicaid patients use city ambulances, which the city is only partly reimbursed for, and that has driven up costs, he said.
Even with the increase, officials said Pasco's average total monthly utility rates are below those in Walla Walla, Richland and Moses Lake, and are only higher than Kennewick's among comparable area cities.
-- Approved an interfund loan for $1.4 million that will allow the city to buy half of 28 acres planned for development near the Broadmoor outlet mall south of Sandifur Boulevard.
The land had been planned to be used as a regional aquatics park, but that project was rejected by voters in August.
Columbia Basin LLC is paying for the rest of the $2.8 million property, which the city would lose the right to buy if it didn't do so by Jan. 31.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom