City council passes ordinance to bring staff salaries to market average; revenue options next step

Among business items at the Mountlake Terrace City Council meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, the council passed the ordinance to increase non-union staff salaries to match market averages.

The action came after a review presented by Deputy City Manager Carolyn Hope. The ordinance takes effect Jan.1, 2024. According to staff, the measure will also ensure consistency and transparency when employees receive merit increases.

“The change is to a seven-step system, where each position has a low to high range of salary,” Assistant City Manager Carolyn Hope said via email Monday. “When a person is eligible for a merit increase, they will move to the next step. This is consistent with the two unions and some of the comparable cities, too.”

The ordinance will also add 80 hours per year of leave time for non-represented senior management positions, plus 40 hours yearly for the city clerk, communications manager, human resources manager, IT manager, city engineer and police commanders. Other exempt staff will receive 24 hours per year and there will be an additional hour of monthly vacation for employees who have served more than 21 years.

Further, the ordinance will increase employees’ dependent medical insurance match from 80% to 90%.

This chart shows the city’s current costs in 2023 with no raises compared to 2024 when they take effect, and in 2025, after the salary changes are established. (Images courtesy of City of Mountlake Terrace)

The next steps are to prepare a long-range financial sustainability plan and engage with the community on city services and area service levels. This interaction will give the city a better idea of how to meet the needs and pocketbooks of residents in light of the salary increases, staff said.

Hope said that initially, the proposal would add $2.2 million in 2024 and up to $675,000 annually for all employee salary and benefit adjustments in the following years.

“I want to acknowledge the very serious nature of the fiscal impacts and the sort of the task before us in terms of identifying the fiscal path forward here,” Councilmember Rory Paine-Donovan said. “It’s not an easy topic, and I think it’s also honestly something that is overdue.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Bryan Wahl echoed that the salary survey was long overdue.

“We all want to ensure this message is very clearly heard by our staff: We value you. We’re doing this on a leap of faith because it’s not financially sustainable,” Wahl said. “But more importantly, we’re doing this because we value our staff and the role that they play in making this a great community.”

Wahl acknowledged the need to ensure competitive wages with the ability to recruit and retain employees but raised concerns about future funding. He stated that the city can afford the salary increases next year but can’t afford them in seven or eight years.

While the ordinance approved Nov. 16 will get the city to market rates now, the council needs a longer-term discussion for establishing revenue. Wahl said establishing the Financial Sustainability Task Force will be crucial.

He added that the city must examine adjusting the services provided and revenue options, and stated there are two options for increasing revenue: taxes and economic development.

“We have lots of great dreams, a lot of great things that we have, we want to see happen here in Mountlake Terrace, and it’s going to cost money; I want a bigger pie,” Wahl said, referring to funding.

In other business, Jake Johnston of the Johnston Group presented an update to the city’s 2024 federal legislative agenda.

The primary focus is to resubmit city’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program, along with requesting grant dollars “in the $20 million to $25 million range for the downtown subarea plan,” he said

There is also a pending project in the current appropriations bills in Congress that could benefit the city, he added.

“The Senate requested $2.19 million for the Main Street Phase Two project. We are currently funded in the House budget at $850,000, and our delegation is working hard to bring that number up to its fully funded request by the end of the year,” Johnston said.

In addition, Daniel Lokic from the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County (EASC) updated EASC’s efforts in Mountlake Terrace.

This chart shows the total cost per year of salary and benefits broken down by fund type. The cost of the benefit changes are listed in the chart.

Their recent initiatives have been to elevate the Mountlake Terrace & Brier Chamber of Commerce, strategically plan networking events, and improve the chamber’s online presence.

Lokic said that the alliance will launch a business retention and expansion study to learn about challenges and opportunities facing ground-floor Mountlake Terrace businesses.

Further, EASC will continue advising economic development priorities through the city’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Group and focusing on current/upcoming ground-floor commercial spaces through relationship building with developers, property owners and brokers.

Councilmember Erin Murray asked for clarification on how one priority mentioned – connections between larger cities’ chambers of commerce, such as Seattle – would benefit Mountlake Terrace. Lokic responded that communication between the chambers could connect the city with companies looking to move from their current city or expand outside of it.

Also reviewed and approved Nov. 16 was the design contract with MacLeod Reckord for Veterans Memorial Park’s upper plateau.

The agreement will ensure the preparation of materials necessary to complete 2024 funding applications with the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to support future project construction.

The scope of work includes installing a new restroom, upgrading play equipment, refreshing the memorial, completing frontage improvements, assessing natural areas, enhancing the paved trail with lighting and creating gathering spaces via picnic area and shelter.

The contract includes a design fee of $192,459.39 with a $7,540.61 contingency totaling $200,000 has been set to complete a 60% design and prepare materials and documentation.

Zachary O’Connell (center right) and Patrick Kotwis (right) were recognized for their contributions to the City of Mountlake Terrace, their community and for obtaining the challenging rank of Eagle Scout.

Parks and Facilities Superintendent Ken Courtmanch and Molly Luna, the Recreation Park Advisory Commission chair, presented a special recognition for two Eagle Scouts – Zachary O’Connell and Patrick Kotwis.

One of the requirements to become an Eagle Scout is to volunteer for a project that benefits the local community.

Kotwis secured the donations for the wood and concrete to build three park benches in the new play area at Ballinger Park.

However, there was a snag, according to Courtmanch The wrong frames were ordered (not by Kotwis), and were closer to a non-adjustable recliner than a bench.

“If he’d have put them in the ground, you’d have actually been looking up at the sky when you were sitting on the benches, Courtmanch said.

After the correct frames were ordered, Kotwis completed the project at the beginning of October.

Zachary O’Connell’s project was separate from Kotwis’s but happened simultaneously. O’Connell contacted the city with a proposal for a trail reclamation project at Terrace Creek Overlook.

Courtmanch explained that O’Connell had 15 volunteers with him on the first day and seven more on the second, clearing the thick overgrowth. He said they cleared away three dump trucks of debris and made the trails clean and safe.

“We appreciate your hard work and your dedication to public recreation facilities,” Courtmanch said. “Thank you, Zachary and Patrick.”

Councilmember Laura Sonmore had an excused absence from the meeting.

The city council voted to cancel the Nov. 23 meeting in observance of Thanksgiving.

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, there will be a special meeting for public comment about the 2024 Property Tax Levy. That will be followed by possible approval of the ordinance and a resolution to move the item to the next meeting’s consent agenda.

The Nov. 29 meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 23204 58th Avenue West, Mountlake Terrace. To attend the meeting online, visit and enter meeting ID 893 8149 0913; no passcode is needed.

To listen via telephone, call 1-253-215-8782 and enter the same meeting ID. Live-streamed meetings and past video recordings can be viewed at

The complete agenda can be viewed here.

— By Rick Sinnett

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