The Clark County Elections office is almost finished verifying signatures on a referendum petition to retract the Vancouver City Council’s recent salary hikes, and it appears there will be enough valid signatures to qualify for a ballot measure, elections officials said Friday.
Of the 3,139 signatures checked so far, 2,512 are valid, Elections Director Cathie Garber said. To qualify for the ballot, the referendum effort needs the signatures of 2,776 registered voters who live within city limits.
There are 644 remaining signatures to verify. Considering the validity rate of the petition’s signatures so far is 80 percent, it’s likely that the required number of signatures — 264 — will be met.
Garber said her office plans to return the verified petitions to the city clerk on Tuesday for certification.
If the petition has enough valid signatures and is certified, the Vancouver City Council could immediately vote to repeal the ordinance that set the council’s higher pay for 2017-2018. If the councilors don’t repeal it, they must refer the ordinance to voters in November’s election.
In either case, if the salaries were retracted, the city’s five-member Salary Review Commission would have to reconvene to reset the salaries before the end of the year.
On April 20, the independent commission increased the mayor’s pay for 2017-18 by 117 percent, from $27,600 to $60,000 a year. City councilors’ pay is rising 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, will see 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.
Friday, petition organizer Royce Pollard, formerly a six-term mayor of Vancouver, was enthusiastic about the rate of valid signatures so far in the signature-counting progress.
“If it continues that way, I think it’s a great success of all the people involved,” Pollard said. “I’m happy for the city of Vancouver. We thought we had a right to vote on this.”
However, he hopes council members will choose to overturn the salary ordinance themselves rather than put the referendum on the ballot.
“If they force us to do that, they’ve made another tragic mistake,” he said.
If the council doesn’t vote to overturn the ordinance, Pollard said he won’t support a proposed affordable housing levy campaign aimed at raising money to support the city’s lowest-income residents. That’s because he’d have to spend the money he otherwise would have put into low-income housing on the salary referendum campaign, which would cost $30,000 to $40,000, Pollard said. Others have told him they feel the same way, he said.
“Hopefully the council will do the right thing,” Pollard said.
The city council, which declared an affordable housing emergency in April, is expected to make a decision June 20 on whether to place an affordable housing levy on November’s ballot that would generate $42 million over seven years. The revenue would be put into a fund for the buying, building and preservation of low-income rental housing and homelessness prevention in the form of rental assistance and housing services.