UPDATED EDITORIAL ON 11/29: One thing I've learned about city council is their dependence on staff for the information they need. The influence staff has over Council can make a councillor's job run smoothly and with respect, or run rough.
So, it doesn't take a new councillor long to accept the bridle on salary decisions. (66% of the general operating fund pays for Staff compensation expenditures)
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Salaries, benefits and *COLA's appear strictly "off limits" to Council. "The Council does not have a role in contract negotiations" says the Chair. What about non-contract? Ask about compensation and it's always possible the Administration could willingly, or not, withhold certain information that could help. Should Council need reassurances and approval, the Mayor may load their study sessions with executives and managers. Mr. Mayor, as Chief of Staff, controls the information and attention council so values. It's no wonder the tail appears to wag the dog on guarded salary policy decisions.
Salaries and benefits comprise over 66% of the General Fund, yet Council gives it only "a percent" of their time. Council was surprised when they learned HR had already locked in first year, $340,007 of $680,015 biennium cost-of-living-adjustment. We are in the worst economy since the Great Depression and the Administration not only proposes a *COLA but locks away half of it from council oversight.
Our city workers are professional, personable and very capable. I admire their expertise and patience with the public. A 1% cost-of-living-adjusting is appropriate if Redmond's 624 city workers were underpaid or falling behind in a strong economy. But, they're paid well with non-uniform *COLA's higher than the CPI -Washington in a deflationary economy.
Each year, for the last seven years, cost-of-living-increases averaged 5% for FIRE, 3.2% for POLICE and 2.7% for City Hall.(secretaries, planners, engineers). With council oversight, Management could set the tone for the city's six bargaining units by 'refusing' their COLA, but Council would need resolve they haven't shown.
According to Public Record Requests, the average 2010 salary and benefits (see employee list) for each of the Mayor's 624 full time city employees is $108,136 .... this covers every job from the city van driver and administrative assistants, the associate planners and firemen to managers and their nine executives. Many will get bonuses or merit increases in the next two years. But, a cost-of-living adjustment to already competitive pay levels while raising property taxes in this economy is unconscionable.
Staff wages don't factor a 4.4% increase in overtime, a 24% increase in supplemental help, and contingency reserves for future bonuses in 2011-2012. If council could get a grip for once and say NO to the 0.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, they'd have $340,007 for critical services, capital funds, debt service and the other needs Councillor Myers and members have identified. My wife suggested jobs lost to the Mayor's layoffs might even be saved.
Councillors recently accepted their first pay increase in six years. Their modest salary is now only $950/month for their 90 hours of personal life they sacrifice each month for our community. Finance Chair Councillor Hank Margeson has done a stellar job running the budget.
After four years of stagnant pay, the Mayor now wants "his" -and he's worth it. Our town is growing into a city and needs the attention of a professional at the helm. Future qualified mayoral candidates will be attracted by a salary a Redmond mayor deserves.
Staff has gotten "theirs" every single budget cycle. All it takes are four or more councillors with true grit to pound their stake in the ground this one time, is this economy, and cut the proposed, relatively minimal 0.5% cost-of-living-adjustment planned for 2012. That's less than short Starbucks latte/day for each city employee!
By Bob Yoder
*Councillor David Carson wrote in a 12/7 email, the city gave "1% salary increases" not "COLA's".
City of Redmond salaries and benefits recorded here:
Please send your comments to Finance Council Chair Hank Margeson: email@example.com or comment below.
Sources: Public Record Requests, Salary Commission meetings (2), Budget By Priority meetings (4), Budget Hearing (1), Items from the Audiance (1). 2011-2012 Preliminary Budget Manual, a two-hour. meeting with a councillor, City Council meetings on TV (5), 2008 - 2009 Preliminary Budget Manual.