[Vision2020] Citys pay proposal needs more scrutiny

psalant@moscow.com psalant@moscow.com
Fri, 13 Dec 2002 22:59:31 GMT

Next Monday, Dec. 16, the Moscow City Council will discuss and possibly vote on 
parts of a new pay plan for City employees.  

We strongly believe that public employees should be paid well and fairly.  We 
are not  misers when it comes to paying for professional public administration, 
and have a great deal of respect for Moscow’s city administrators and 
department heads.  That said, we have some concerns about  the current 
proposal, as described in recent newspaper reports. 

First, the consultants’ plan focuses on raising compensation to the nine 
highest-paid city administrators while doing little for rank-and-file workers 
who patrol the city, keep our streets clean, run our water system and sewage-
treatment plants and keep the city running smoothly.   The justification given 
for this decision seems to be that Moscow risks losing our administrators 
because we aren’t paying them enough.  This has not been documented to our 
satisfaction; from our observation, turnover among city department heads has 
been relatively low in the last decade.

Second, according to the Dec. 10 Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the consultant 
compared Moscow salaries to several larger cities in the Northwest, including 
Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.   We suggest that inclusion of cities from 
one and half to 10 times the size of Moscow has skewed the comparison to 
support an argument that our administrators are underpaid.  A comparison to 
Northwest cities of between 15,000 and 25,000 in population would be far more 

Third, at least two parts of the compensation plan are not in line with a good 
business model.   Under the proposal, the top-salaried administrators will 
receive generous compensation for any work over 40 hours a week – including 
attending meetings of the City Council.  This benefit is enjoyed by few other 
salaried employees in the public or private sector.  In addition, cost-of-
living increases would be retroactive to the first of this fiscal year, a 
provision which the council  did not include in the 2002-2003 budget.

Finally, the city finance director estimates the plan’s cost to be $225,000 
this fiscal year.  While there is enough money in this year’s budget to cover 
such an increase, we don’t know if that will be the case next year, especially 
given the current economic climate.   The Daily News reports that the city’s 
payroll has grown phenomenally – by nearly $1 million since 1998.   How much of 
this increase is the result of hiring additional employees and how much is the 
result of raises?  That question needs a thorough discussion in a public forum.

Moscow’s City Council should closely scrutinize the consultants’ report and 
seek additional comment from the public before adopting any compensation 
plan.   As stewards of the public purse, council members have an obligation to 
be frugal in these uncertain times.

Kenton Bird, Priscilla Salant and Bill London

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