The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Tuesday, July 5 business meeting approved a proposed 7.5% raise for a number of staff positions, including an associate planner, city planner, two police commanders, the city’s department directors and its human resources manager.
The council had earlier this year requested a review of non-union salaries as part of the City of Mountlake Terrace’s efforts to retain and recruit employees. City Manager Scott Hugill reported during the council’s June 30 work/study session that a salary survey of comparable cities, based on data supplied by the Association of Washington Cities, revealed that the city pays less overall than other cities of similar size.
Hugill explained Tuesday night that the salary scale for planners, in particular, was below market. Once you increase the salary scale of an associate planner, there is “a ripple effect” that impacts salary increases for senior planners and the community and economic development director. Increasing the director’s salary then impacts the salaries of other city directors.
The salary survey indicated that many of those other director positions were also below market rate, Hugill said.
Following up on council questions raised during last week’s meeting, the city manager said he reviewed the impact of the proposed salary increases on the city’s six-year financial forecast. The cost of the 7.5% pay raise for identified positions is approximately $227,000 for the first year, with a 3% increase annually, for a total increase of $250,000 annually at the end of six years, Hugill said. With a city fund balance of $8.5 million at the end of 2021 (which doesn’t include $3 million in one-time federal COVID-relief funds), “it has a neglible effect on the budget forecast,” Hugill said.
Normally this type of salary review takes place in the fall as part of the budget process, but Hugill said that the competitive job market has made hiring more difficult and he wanted to address the current discrepancies now. Possible wage increases for other non-union positions may come before the council later this year, he said.
Councilmember Erin Murray, who has a 20-year career in human resources, was the lone “no” vote on the salary proposal. She instead encouraged the city look for an outside consultant to review the salary compensation process.
“I think we have amazing employees, I think recruiting and retention is incredibly important,” she said. “I would love for us to look at that holistically and I think we need to do that in a way that is thoughtful and equitable.”
“It is helpful to have somebody who does compensation as their full-time job to help walk through a process to really ensure we have a compensation strategy that meets our organizational needs both now and in the future,” Murray added.
Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Wahl said that he appreciated Murray’s perspective, and agreed that the city should consider “a deeper dive” into salary compensation in the future. However, Wahl added, he would be voting to support the 7.5% wage increase as proposed “because we need to address it (the salary increases) now.”
The final vote was 5-1, with Wahl and Councilmembers Doug McCardle, Rick Ryan, Steve Woodard and Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright voting yes. Councilmember Laura Sonmore was absent from the meeting.
In other business, councilmembers continued their review of the 2021 fourth quarter financial report, which was first presented to them May 16. Hugill noted that the city had an adopted 2021 budget that forecast an ending fund balance of $3.7 million, but the actual ending fund balance was $11.5 million, which includes $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. “You are doing well financially,” Hugill said. The city will receive a second installment of $3 million in ARPA funds later this summer, he added.
Councilmember Murray asked why the city spent just 52% of its 2021 budget for street maintenance, when “I’m sure we have lots of residents that would argue we could have spent that money.” Hugill replied that the reason much of that funding wasn’t spent is because it took a while for the city to fill open street maintenance positions. “We budgeted for more work, more staff, more equipment but we just didn’t have a chance to spend it all last year,” he said.
During his report to the council, Hugill said that the city is close to being able to open the new city hall building to the public. Staff have been addressing a range of challenges in the new facility, including a non-functioning HVAC system and some non-working security locks and light switches, which have since been resolved, Hugill said.
Councilmembers also congratulated the city’s employees for a job well done on producing the city’s 3rd of July celebration at Ballinge rPark
“Thank you to staff for making it all come together. You did a fantastic job,” Wahl said.
There was one public comment Tuesday night, offered via Zoom. Mountlake Terrace resident Shelly Richard, who lives on 66th Avenue West, complained about the speeding traffic on her street and said the city isn’t doing enough to address the issue.
“This is a dangerous stretch of road with light rail coming in,” she said.
Hugill promised to follow up immediately with her regarding her concerns.
— By Teresa Wippel