Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes’ 3.5-percent salary increase raised some eyebrows earlier this month. It turns out Holmes has plenty of company. In fact, his pay bump is not the highest among local top city administrators.
After being frozen in recent years due to the economic swoon, salaries of top city leaders across Clark County are beginning to thaw in 2012.
Four of the five city CEOs in Clark County will receive pay increases in 2012, whether through planned merit increases or pre-negotiated raises secured for city employees across the board. These raises do not include cost of living adjustments, which remain frozen in order to save money.
Clark County commissioners will decide in January whether County Administrator Bill Barron will receive a raise in 2012. Barron currently makes $174,252 a year and receives an additional 7.25 percent for a deferred compensation program.
Awarding pay raises to public leaders is important because it lessens the chance of a more affluent city or private company poaching them and, symbolically, makes the employees feel more appreciated, said Mark Stephan, a political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver.
It is also easy to see why some local residents would object to the raises, he noted.
“At a time when everyone feels the crunch, and some people are having a difficult time finding work, (seeing) public money used for raises is not going to sit well with some of the public,” Stephan said.
City managers report to their respective city council and are not always subject to a specific salary range. City administrators, meanwhile, report to their city’s mayor and are generally subject to incremental pay increases.
La Center, Woodland and Yacolt do not have a city administrator or city manager.
Washougal City Administrator Dave Scott will receive the county’s largest pay hike among his peers — one year after he
turned down a pay raise. In addition, Scott will receive the second-highest salary among Clark County city managers or administrators to run the county’s fourth-largest city.
Scott declined a 3.5-percent step increase in fall 2010. That merit increase was written into his contract for his six-month evaluation. However, at the time, city officials were preparing to ask employees to accept a wage freeze.
“It simply wasn’t the right thing to do,” Scott said of accepting a pay raise when other employees’ salaries stood pat.
Washougal’s salary freeze will lift Jan. 1. On that day, Scott will receive the same 1 percent increase as Washougal’s other nonunion employees, plus a 3.5-percent merit increase he was scheduled to receive after 18 months.
Scott served as Vancouver’s development review services director before joining Washougal’s administrative staff. He started on the eighth step of a 10-step ladder in Washougal. That means he will be eligible for one more incremental pay raise after 2012.
Camas City Administrator Lloyd Halverson maxed out on the city’s seven-step scale years ago. Halverson, who has spent 22 years in his current capacity, will receive an approximately 1 percent pay increase budgeted according to the city’s union agreement.
Halverson estimated city employees received 3 percent yearly raises on average during the past 20 years. However, in recent years, Halverson and other city employees did not receive a raise due to the recession. Halverson has also declined roughly 2 percent of his yearly salary, or around 40 hours, to “help in these difficult economic times,” he said.
Ridgefield City Manager Justin Clary is the only city administrator or city manager in Clark County who will not receive a pay raise in 2012. This is nothing new for Clary. He has not received a salary increase since Jan. 1, 2008.
Clary vacated his title as Ridgefield’s public works director in April 2007 to become the city’s full-time city manager. He had previously held the title of interim city manager, while retaining his full-time public works duties, starting in December 2005.
Ridgefield’s council froze cost-of-living adjustments for nonunion employees beginning with the 2009 budget.
“Based on slow recovery, the council has held off on COLAs (over) the past couple of budget cycles,” Clary wrote in an email to The Columbian.
Battle Ground’s council froze pay increases for the 2009-2010 biennial budget, but lifted the freeze for 2011-12. That means City Manager John Williams will be in line for the same merit raise as other city employees.
Williams will move to “Step E” on Battle Ground’s salary scale on Jan. 1. He is eligible for three more merit raises based on an annual October evaluation. Battle Ground determines its highest step by using the average salary of comparable employees in similar-sized cities based on data from the Association of Washington Cities, executive assistant Bonnie Gilberti said.
The city promoted Williams from deputy city manager to city manager in March 2010. He had served as deputy city manager since 2007 and was paid $120,278.76. Upon receiving the promotion, Williams eliminated the deputy city manager’s position, in favor of a human resources generalist position, thus saving the city around $65,000 in administrative salary per year, Gilberti said.
Not all council members are happy about Williams’ raise, however.
Soon-to-be former Battle Ground councilman Paul Zandamela said he would not have supported Williams receiving a raise had he known about it. Williams has done a satisfactory job, Zandamela said, but the city has other needs.
“How can they justify giving a raise to a person already making over $100,000?” Zandamela asked. “I’m stunned. I don’t even know who approved this.”
Zandamela should not have been surprised about Williams’ salary increase, Battle Ground Mayor Mike Ciraulo said, since he was a member of the council when it authorized the raise.
“I can’t speak for a council member who doesn’t read the document,” Ciraulo said.
Stephanie Rice of The Columbian contributed to this story.