BATTLE GROUND — Battle Ground city councilors will become some of the highest-paid in Clark County after they voted to approve a compensation increase at Monday’s meeting.
The raises approved Monday have councilors making $900 a month. Vancouver councilors are the only city councilors in Clark County with a higher per-month compensation; they make $2,005 a month this year.
Battle Ground councilors also approved a pay bump for the deputy mayor to $1,000 a month and raised the mayor’s pay to $1,100 a month. The council has a few different compensation levels based on when a given councilor’s term ends. For councilors whose terms end this year, they are making $400 a month. For councilors whose term runs through 2021, they make $600 a month, with the mayor currently receiving $750 a month.
The new rates will start in 2020, and only for three positions up for election this year. Shane Bowman, deputy mayor, is running unopposed for re-election; Shauna Walters and Neil Butler are running for an open seat and Councilor Philip Johnson is running for re-election against Joshua VanGelder.
The other four council seats will be eligible for the compensation increase after their next election cycle.
The council also discussed the option of receiving health benefits. At a previous meeting, the council directed City Manager Erin Erdman to look into what options would be available. At Monday’s meeting, that was rolled into the compensation vote, which passed 5-1 with Councilor Steven Phelps opposed and Councilor Brian Munson absent Erdman said the benefits portion of the discussion isn’t finalized, as the city is waiting to get back numbers from Kaiser Permanente on options.
Erdman and city officials are working through the budgeting process. But it is likely the council’s benefits will be similar to the city’s non-represented employees, such as the executive department and supervisors. That means there would be a city contribution and elected official contribution. City officials are using the same numbers as benefits for non-represented employees to estimate the potential impact on the city.
She said that in a “worst case scenario,” in which all councilors opt for the highest-cost plan available, it could cost the city an estimated $170,000 a year. But she won’t know for certain until Kaiser gets back to the city with more details and she knows which councilors are considering opting in.
While no residents got up to speak about the issue at Monday’s meeting, the discussion has caused a bit of a stir around the city in the last few days. Some residents are upset the council was looking at pay bumps while working on an annexation with Fire District 3. City officials still plan on running that vote in February, and if it passes, it would add a new fire levy to city property owners. Earlier this year, the council approved a reduction in the city’s utility tax rate by 10 percent if the annexation vote is approved.
The only councilor to vote against the ordinance was Phelps, who said he was worried it could harm the annexation vote and asked councilors to see how the vote could come across.
“This gives them a tool to say, ‘no,'” Phelps said. “It doesn’t look good.”
Councilor Adrian Cortes said he didn’t want any action the council takes to potentially take away from the annexation vote.
Bowman said one reason he brought the idea to council was a recent trip to an Association of Washington Cities conference with Cortes. He said when they looked around, they noticed most of the local representatives were retired or owned their own business.
“If we compensate more, we can get more people involved,” he said, adding that until this year, Battle Ground hasn’t had a contested city council race in a few years.
He also said the job has changed, with more committee meetings and responsibilities than in the past.
An unsigned letter making its way around the city in recent days speaks out against the raises, claiming that councilors only work eight hours a month in their official positions. Bowman, who has been on the council since 2012 and served as mayor in 2014-15, said that was off, and that most weeks councilors work closer to 15 hours.
Mayor Mike Dalesandro said many councilors have to take vacation time from their full-time jobs to participate in city events, and Councilor Cherish DesRochers said she has to rearrange her work schedule every Monday so she can attend council meetings. Cortes, who is a special education teacher with the Camas School District, said he took time off to go to Washington D.C. as a councilor and had to pay $140 a day out of his own pocket for a substitute teacher.
Phelps tried to ask for a second look, giving the council more time to discuss the decision and to allow Munson to vote. The council voted to suspend the rules, as this was the last meeting they could vote on the ordinance to make sure it goes into effect prior to election day, meaning the new compensation rate will start in January. Phelps wasn’t swayed by their arguments.
“It’s ridiculous we’re even talking about this,” he said. “We don’t need to give ourselves more money.”