City council reviews proposed pay raise for non-union employees

City Manager Scott Hugill (left) and the Mountlake Terrace City Council discuss a proposed amended salary schedule ordinance during the council’s Thursday work/study session.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its June 30 work/study session, an amended salary schedule ordinance that includes a proposed 7.5% pay increase for several city staff leadership positions.

During discussions this spring on agreements with union-represented staff, the council had requested a review of non-union salaries as part of the City of Mountlake Terrace’s efforts to retain and recruit employees.

During a June 2 review of staffing levels and compensation for the city’s full-time non-union positions, City Manager Scott Hugill noted that in a recent comparison of wages with comparable cities, the high salary paid for several of Mountlake Terrace’s positions — many of which are senior positions across a range of departments — “is below the average of those comparable cities.”

To help with recruiting and retaining employees, Hugill asked councilmembers for the flexibility to bring a proposal for increasing the salaries of “the majority of positions of directors, managers and supervisors.” It would also adjust the pay classification ranges for the senior planner and associate planner positions to increase their wages, since doing so would particularly help with recruitment efforts for planners and engineers.

Based on the comparisons of salaries in comparable cities, Hugill recommended Thursday that the council consider a 7.5% wage increase for all department director positions, including the assistant city manager, community and economic director, community relations director/city clerk, finance director, human resources manager, police chief and commanders, public works director, and recreation and parks director.

City Manager Scott Hugill recommended that the council consider a wage increase for several positions including “development review and management – our most difficult positions to recruit and retain.”

Additional salary adjustments proposed included moving the associate planner position from the city’s pay range that is exempt from overtime to its hourly range that is eligible for overtime. Making the change would increase that position’s wages $2 per hour. And the senior planner position would be moved up in the city’s exempt pay range, for a $713-per-month wage increase

“This is primarily supervisors/managers and department directors,” plus converting the associate planner position to hourly pay, Hugill told the council. “The ones that we were really focusing on, at least at this phase, were those involved in development review and management – our most difficult positions to recruit and retain.” He anticipated possibly bringing back more recommended salary adjustments for other non-union positions later this year, likely in the fall.

Councilmembers expressed their support for the idea and will vote on whether to approve the amended salary schedule ordinance at their July 5 regular business meeting. The council also requested to see, at Tuesday night’s meeting, the budget implications of the proposed increase on the city’s six-year financial forecast.

Several noted that the city’s staffing challenges, which include recruiting and retaining employees, should be addressed holistically and said they would like to do a further “deep dive” into the issue at a future meeting.

In other business, the council reviewed a supplemental work order with RH2 Engineering, Inc. to continue providing the city’s public works department with technical and administrative support. The work includes assisting with processing engineering permits and also helping to develop an engineering design standards document in coordination with city staff. The council had previously approved an on-call work contract with the engineering firm for 2021 and 2022.

The work order calls for utilizing an engineer from RH2 to help reduce the immediate permit review workload backlog and also offer expedited permit review services; plus assist with creating the engineering design standards.

Public Works Director Eric LaFrance briefs the city council about a supplemental work order for on-call engineering services.

Public Works Director Eric LaFrance told the council that assigning minor permit proposals to that engineer, along with other ongoing changes to permit review processes, is expected to eventually allow the review of new applications, depending on the project’s scope, to occur within a matter of days or weeks after they have been submitted, rather than months.

He recommended that the council authorize the city manager to execute a supplemental work order for on-site permit review support under the on-call services agreement already in place with RH2 Engineering. Doing so would “help us catch up on the development review tasks that we have been working on, we got a little bit swamped, they’ve done a really good job doing that,” he said.

“We want to continue using their services, we’ve found they’ve been very valuable to us,” LaFrance added. He noted that the RH2 staff member assigned to the department has extensive technical and permit processing experience from working with other cities throughout the area, which will be particularly helpful for further developing the city’s engineering design standards.

“We’re hoping that this development of the engineering design standards will give a better picture for those who are interested in learning what is it going to look like to develop in Mountlake Terrace,” LaFrance said.

Approving the supplemental work order of nearly $140,000 would not exceed the maximum payable amount authorized under the original on-call work contract. The in-person support work would be billed on a time-and-materials basis until the end of the year, with a not-to-exceed budget of $263,807.

Noting that it would help with the current permit review backlog and also eventually speed up that process for applications submitted, Councilmember Doug McCardle said, “I think it’s resources well spent and it’ll get us back on track sooner.”

The council will vote on the matter as part of the consent calendar at its next regular business meeting.

During public comments Thursday night, two people spoke in support of the city adopting a multifamily property tax exemption program. The council recently hosted a special presentation about those programs and will continue its discussions about the possibility later this month.

Mountlake Terrace resident Dale Jeremiah said the multifamily property tax exemption program “should include condominiums, both new and conversions,” and “it should be citywide” rather than just in the downtown core. He added, “Homeownership is going to remove barriers to housing, it provides affordable below-market rates” to people also looking to purchase a home and not just to developments for renters.

Frank Shields, who owns a property near the Lynnwood Link light rail station being constructed in Mountlake Terrace, said he has “been joining forces with a couple of my neighbors and seeking investor partners to do an apartment development.” He added that in every conversation he’s had so far, “one of the first questions” they ask about is the multifamily tax incentives, and “I think it would be tremendously beneficial to allowing a project to proceed if we had that.”

Shields noted that Shoreline has a multifamily tax exemption program and said that if Mountlake Terrace had one as well it would likely put the city on roughly “even footing” for attracting apartment development projects in the area.

Due to the Fourth of July holiday, the city council will hold its next regular business meeting Tuesday, July 5 at 7 p.m. It will include a follow up discussion of the 2021 fourth quarter financial report. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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