In Our View: ‘No Raises This Year’

Salary commission makes the right call regarding Vancouver City Council



The larger headline above is presented inside quotation marks because it repeats the succinct point made by Vancouver City Councilor Bart Hansen to the citizens panel known as the Vancouver Salary Review Commission.We could not agree more with Hansen. More significantly, the independent commission also agreed and voted to not raise the salaries of the city council’s seven part-time members. The two-year decision repeats the ruling made in 2010.

Five of the seven council members submitted oral or written testimony to the commission, and councilors Jeanne Stewart and Bill Turlay joined Hansen in recommending no raises while Tim Leavitt and Larry Smith advocated raises of unspecified amounts for their positions as mayor and mayor pro tem, respectively.

The commission’s no-raise verdict makes perfect sense when considering the following:

Vancouver’s city government — like other public entities — has suffered tremendous financial burdens in recent years. To their credit, the city council members have worked diligently to find complicated and difficult solutions to continuing budget problems, including a $15.5 million shortfall in 2009 and a $6 million hole in 2010.

In this lingering financial environment, raising salaries of part-time elected officials is out of the question.

Hundreds of positions have been cut in Vancouver city government, including 57 in 2009 and 66 in 2010, not to mention the recent loss of 17 parks and recreation staff members. We suspect many of those former city workers would love to have a part-time job that pays $2,200 per month (for mayor), $2,000 monthly (for mayor pro tem) or $1,781 monthly (city councilors). Remember, too, these part-time jobs come with cherished city health insurance benefits.

No budget relief is in sight. The decision by the commission makes even more sense in light of budget hearings back in May. City Manager Eric Holmes said that — after flat revenue projections for 2013-2014 — the city in 2015 will resume facing budget shortfalls projected at $2 million to $3 million annually. No raises? Of course, and we’d like to see that same principle upheld by city officials taking tougher stands during negotiations with unions.

It could be argued that slight raises for council members would mean nothing in the overall context of a $272.9 million biennial general fund. But that’s not the point. Elected officials, the top policy-setters in city government, should lead by example. And it’s difficult to convince department heads to cut their budgets when the politicians are getting raises.

Also, it could be argued — in fact, it was argued by Leavitt and Smith — that these political jobs are time-consuming. Cry us a river. Every member of the council knew the conditions of the job before running for elected office. Voters remember well how passionate these politicians were during the campaigns when they told us how much they wanted the jobs. Now that they’ve got the jobs they coveted, voters aren’t interested in complaints about the workload.

Finally, we applaud the process by which this decision was made. In 1994 voters wisely created the Salary Review Commission. The council cannot change the commission’s decision, whether it’s for or against raises. The commission’s ruling can only be changed by Vancouver residents putting the issue before voters through the referendum process.

These elected officials have no role in determining their salaries. That kind of system ought to appeal to every taxpayer.