Mayor proposes government affordability plan

Salary reform and citywide review part of three-part plan

Brian Coddington, Communications Director, 509.625.6740

Monday, November 10, 2014 at 11:33 a.m.

Spokane Mayor David Condon proposed today overhauling the process for setting the mayor’s salary, changes to arbitration guidelines that govern labor contracts for public safety employees and a comprehensive review of City salaries in a three-part plan to keep government affordable.

The proposal, offered as conversation starter to a series of community forums hosted by City Councilmember Mike Fagan about salaries, would:

  • Transfer authority to set the mayor’s salary to the citizen Salary Review Commission and follow the process that body uses to establish salaries for City Council members
  • Push the state Legislature to add disparity in housing costs among communities in our state as a factor to be considered in labor arbitration for police officers and firefighters
  • Invest in a comprehensive salary survey of all of City job classifications to ensure wages are consistent with market rates

“Keeping government affordable is an important directive that drives decisions we make every day as we deliver against community priorities, such as improvements in public safety and streets,” Condon said. “As we think about how we continue to deliver those services and others better and more affordably, it is important that we consider what drives the cost of government.”

As a service industry, the City is largely a people business, making salaries a significant cost driver.

Under Condon’s plan, changes would also be made to how the Salary Review Commission is appointed to allow for the mayor and City Council to appoint two members each to the five-member Commission, with the Commission picking the fifth member. The Salary Review Commission’s mission as a separate, independent body is to base salaries on “realistic standards according to the duties to attract citizens of the highest quality to public service.” The plan would require changes to the City Charter and municipal code.

Allowing statewide disparity in housing costs to be considered during arbitration would align future wages to local market factors. A salary survey would deliver independent information about wages and how City salaries compare to industry standards.

Fagan is holding a series of community conversations about the cost of government. The final forum is on Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. in the Council Briefing Center in City Hall.

A gap began to emerge between City employee wages and Spokane County median household income in 2004. By 2008, that gap had widened significantly and became significant over the three years that followed.

As labor contracts have come up for renewal over the past three years, the administration has worked with the individual bargaining units to realign salaries along a growth curve that is consistent with what the rest of the community is experiencing.

During that same period, City employees have reduced crime rates citywide for the first time in memory, refined how the fire department responds to non-emergency medical calls, thought holistically about stormwater management and leveraged tax dollars to achieve more and greater outcomes for citizen investments.

“We have turned a corner on salary growth and need to commit the City long-term to maintaining that discipline,” Condon said.