Commission eyes 1-5 percent pay increase for Vancouver council members, mayor

The Commission’s fourth meeting included some concrete numbers for the public to chew on

VANCOUVER — Vancouver’s mayor, mayor pro tem, and members of the City Council are a step closer to possibly getting another raise.

The 5-member citizen Salary Commission met for the fourth time on Monday and, for the first time, gave some numbers they’re considering as an appropriate range for raises, from between two and four percent. The commission members were quick to say they want to avoid mistakes made by the previous Salary Commission two years ago.

Members of the Vancouver Salary Commission debate increases for council members, mayor, and mayor pro tem. Photo by Chris Brown
Members of the Vancouver Salary Commission debate increases for council members, mayor, and mayor pro tem. Photo by Chris Brown

In 2016, then-mayor Tim Leavitt received a 117 percent pay increase, and council members around 50 percent. The numbers, for what is ostensibly a part-time position, prompted a public backlash and a signature-gathering campaign led by former mayor Royce Pollard. The council ultimately reversed course, and came back with a four percent raise, spread over two years.

This year’s salary commission must submit their recommendation by May 1. One of the questions raised during Monday’s meeting was whether the benefits package the mayor and councilors receive should factor into their pay increase, and what impact a raise might have on those benefits. Life insurance policies, for instance, could increase as salary does.

One area of discussion included what questions should be on a questionnaire being sent to members of the council. One, which was ultimately approved, asked whether a candidate’s decision to run was impacted by the compensation. Another, which was ultimately voted down, focused on whether benefits should be taken into consideration. The commission decided it wouldn’t matter, since they lack the authority to change benefits.

The city estimates that benefits council members receive amount to nearly $1,200 per month. Those include healthcare, life insurance, mileage and cell phone reimbursement, as well as a per diem. They also have access to the Public Employee Retirement System.

Commission member Frank L’Amie said he gathered salary and benefits data from similar-sized cities across the state, and found very little hard data to help inform their decision.

“I don’t know how concrete it is,” L’Amie says, “because every one of these cities is different. You’re comparing apples and oranges and prunes and pears.”

Former mayor Pollard spoke during the public comment part of the meeting, and admonished the commission members not to rely on what other cities are doing.

“They’re not the same as us,” Pollard says. “We have different needs, our citizens have different concerns and ideas. What is right for this community? That’s for you to figure out what that may be.”

Pollard’s recommendation was to find out what kinds of raises city employees are getting, and stick with those numbers, so as not to cause a morale problem.

Ultimately, pressed to give the range of a raise they might consider, the commission members seemed to be focused on a number between one and five percent.

“We don’t have complete information,” said Commission Chair MarCine Miles. “We have documents we haven’t had a chance to review, we don’t have the responses from the council members, and all those are factors. But I do think it’s helpful to have sort of a baseline between zero and five — that’s what it sounds like to me — so that we don’t have people worried about 114 percent increases.”

Their next meeting is March 30 at 10 a.m.., with another on April 11 at the same time. Two members said they had conflicts with the final public meeting set for April 17. It was scratched from the schedule, with several members saying they felt confident they could reach a final number in the next two meetings.

“We have plenty of time,” Miles added. “We’re not on a racetrack. In my view we’re not delayed or behind, we’ve worked very efficiently and very hard to get to this point.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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