EDITOR’S NOTE: The number of council positions up for relection this year has been corrected.
PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has voted 6-1 to double council compensation.
It also voted 4-2 to add a $200 travel stipend at the Tuesday night meeting.
The first reading of a proposed ordinance is to be considered at the council’s next meeting. May 2 at 6 p.m. is the next regular meeting of the council.
Laws are up for final approval on the second reading.
If approved before the November elections, the ordinance would be effective on Jan. 1, 2024, for new council terms.
Four current city council members’ terms will be up at the end of this year.
Also under consideration is a provision that council compensation increase by a small percentage each year.
Council last increased its pay in 2003. Current council members receive $550 per month, the deputy mayor gets $600 and mayor $650.
By voting to double the compensation, the next council would see members receiving $1,100 per month, the deputy mayor $1,200 and the mayor $1,300.
“People ask me if we are compensated as council members and I say it’s like AmeriCorps but less,” said council member Lindsey Schromen Wawrin, whose term ends in 2025.
“I think that the city council should be more accessible for working people in Port Angeles, which really means that it can’t be treated like something you do in your free time as a hobby,” he added.
Council member Charlie McCaughan voted against the pay increase, without comment.
Council also approved a $200 stipend for travel. Staff initially proposed a $125 stipend, but council member LaTrisha Suggs moved to amend the proposed stipend and increase it to $200, which was approved in a 4-2 vote.
“By increasing the stipend to $200, it’s equal to $25 per hour at an eight-hour day for travel,” said Suggs, whose term ends in 2025.
Mayor Kate Dexter and council member McCaughan were the two dissenters on the travel stipend. Dexter thought $200 was too much and that she was comfortable with the staff’s proposed amount of $125 but added that she appreciated Suggs’ rationale.
The city council initiated discussion on increasing council compensation in March, directing city staff to come back with details on three options, switching from a monthly compensation to hourly, doubling the current compensation, or looking at comparable cities to determine an average compensation rate.
City staff recommended increasing compensation to an equivalent amount compared to similar-sized cities with a council-manager form of government.
Staff did a salary survey based on cities with a population 50 percent below and 50 percent above that of Port Angeles to determine an average compensation for a city council.
The study showed that the average compensation for mayor was $1,037 per month and $723 per month for council members.
Taking into account this information, staff proposed that the mayor receive $1,000 per month, deputy mayor $900 and council members $725. Mayor and deputy mayor are selected by the council members, who are elected by the voters.
Dexter appeared to be the only council member in favor of the staff recommendation, saying she believes the proposed amounts were too high, but that she would be in favor of looking at biannual council increases.
Schromen-Wawrin was the first to move for the doubling of council compensation, noting he was not in favor of the staff recommendation due to the lack of consideration of inflation.
Council member Navarra Carr seconded his motion.
“I think the issue of inflation is really important,” she said. “We’re looking at what is the current average today, but we also need to create something that is going to last for at least a few years before the next council looks at this.”
State law prevents the council from considering an hourly wage form of compensation, a possibility that had been brought up by Schromen-Wawrin.
“Unfortunately state law prevents us from compensating for the amount of work we do and basically compensates us for sitting in the seats. That’s why the per-hour system doesn’t work,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
However, city staff did lay out what that could look like, recommending an hourly rate of $31.40 but noting that the city would be required to deduct mandates from the compensation such as family medical leave. It also would trigger council participation in a retirement program into which council members would have to pay.
City Attorney Bill Bloor said he thinks it would be possible to have a mechanism in place to increase city council compensation on a more regular basis, noting that it would have to be based on a fixed number.
Bloor offered the City of Bellingham as an example where there is a provision to increase council compensation by 3 percent annually and said that is something staff could look into to be built into the ordinance.
The four council members whose terms end this year are Carr — who has announced she will run for reelection this year — McCaughan, Deputy Mayor Brendan Meyer and appointee Amy Miller.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.