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Sept. 18, 2020

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Vancouver City Council eager to address raises

Vote on repeal of hikes planned after June 20 hearing

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
Published:

Vancouver city councilors want to vote as soon as possible on whether to repeal the city Salary Review Commission’s ordinance that dramatically hiked their pay for 2017-18, they said Monday.

A citizens’ referendum petition to retract the salary increases collected 3,049 valid signatures, which surpassed the 2,776 signatures needed to qualify for a ballot measure. The city clerk has certified the petition, which means the salary commission’s ordinance is suspended.

If the council does not repeal the ordinance, it must be referred to voters at the next municipal election, which is in 2017. The referendum could be placed on November’s ballot if the city council declared it an emergency, City Attorney Bronson Potter said.

But councilors seemed eager to handle the matter themselves.

“I believe we should repeal this. I think it’s a strong message,” Councilor Jack Burkman said. “We want to do this as rapidly as possible.”

The council directed Potter to bring back a draft ordinance for first reading in a week to Monday’s council meeting. A public hearing will be held June 20, after which the council will vote on the question, “Shall the ordinance specified in the referendum petition be repealed?”

If the pay hikes are retracted by the council or by voters, the city’s five-member Salary Review Commission would have to reconvene to reset the salaries before the end of the year. Organizers of the petition effort have said if the new salaries are out of bounds, they’ll fight to retract them, too.

On April 20, the salary commission voted 3-2 to increase the mayor’s pay for 2017-18 by 117 percent, from $27,600 to $60,000 per year. They raised city councilors’ pay by 50 percent, from $21,600 to $32,496 a year. The mayor pro tem, a councilor who fills in when the mayor is unavailable, received a pay boost from $24,000 to $37,500 a year, a 56 percent increase. In Vancouver, the city council and mayoral jobs are considered part time. City Manager Eric Holmes is the city’s top administrator.

Salary commissioners, who have absolute power to set the salaries, were divided between those who said higher pay is necessary to attract a diverse pool of qualified candidates and those who said it’s a public service position, not a full-time job, and should come with a small paycheck.

Almost immediately after the commission’s decision, two former Vancouver mayors — Royce Pollard and Bruce Hagensen — and former city councilor Pat Jollota organized a referendum petition effort to retract the pay hikes. All seven city councilors signed the petition except for Ty Stober and Mayor Tim Leavitt.

During Monday’s discussion, Stober said what mattered was the city’s affordable housing crisis. Families facing significant rent increases were struggling to make ends meet, he said, becoming choked up.

“There is one crisis in our community, and only one crisis in our community. There can be nothing that detracts from that message,” Stober said. “Our families are hurting, so let’s get this flipping thing over with, please.”

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