Port Townsend City Council to discuss pay hike for its members

Goal is to spur more applicants

Amy Howard.

Amy Howard.

PORT TOWNSEND — In hopes of attracting a greater variety of people who want to serve, the Port Townsend City Council has decided to look at raising salaries for council members.

“We’re getting paid minimum wage,” considering the hours devoted to City Council duties, Deputy Mayor David Faber said in Monday night’s workshop meeting.

While Mayor Michelle Sandoval makes $750 per month, the other six council members are paid $500 monthly.

To serve this city of 9,551 people, they attend meetings, read numerous documents to prepare for those meetings and serve on multiple boards and committees.

Sandoval said she’s taken calls from people who, as they’re thinking about running for a council seat, ask her about the time commitment.

“It’s hard for me to judge, because I don’t keep track,” said the mayor, a broker who is also the owner of Windermere Real Estate in Port Townsend.

Council member Amy Howard, in the middle of her second term, works two other jobs: manager of volunteer engagement at Habitat for Humanity and human resources administrative assistant at the Food Co-op.

In an interview, Howard said serving on the council means virtually no spare time left in her life. Last summer, for example, when she was serving on the ad hoc committee for public safety and law enforcement, the only leftover time she had to read the related documents — such as the Port Townsend police training manual — was while she was bathing.

But that’s not the important complaint here, she said.

The larger problem, Howard believes, is the undervaluing of council members’ time, and the resulting deterrent to people who would run if the salary were more reasonable.

“Who are we not hearing from?” Howard asked.

She wondered if a more diverse candidate pool is possible.

She believes strongly in giving back to Port Townsend. This community saved her life, she said, when she was a homeless young woman seeking help at the Boiler Room youth center.

But Howard said she’s able to serve on the council only because her other employers are flexible.

“I’m incredibly fortunate that Habitat for Humanity allows me to take the time,” she said, adding that her hours at the Co-op vary, so she can juggle all three jobs.

Howard and the rest of the council spoke in favor of forming an independent salary commission to study whether and how much to change salary amounts.

Establishing the commission, choosing members and holding meetings would take from May through August, with its decisions incorporated into the 2022 budget around September.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, City Council salaries vary widely.

In Port Angeles, which has a population nearing 19,900, the mayor is paid $650 per month, the deputy mayor $600 and the rest of the council $550 monthly.

Salaries in Sequim, with a population of 7,248, are $410 for the mayor, $330 for the deputy mayor and $250 for the rest of the council members.

The population of Forks, the Peninsula’s other incorporated city, was reported at 3,828 in 2019; its mayor and City Council are unpaid.

Sequim’s council recently voted to increase members’ salaries beginning in 2022: $565 for mayor, $450 for deputy mayor and $350 for the other councilors.

During Monday’s Port Townsend City Council meeting, member Monica MickHager remarked on her intense workload, adding she often cannot respond to constituents’ emails until a week after they appear in her inbox.

So she was surprised when she phoned Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Brotherton with a question — and he immediately called back.

“He said, ‘I make my living doing this,’ ” she noted.

Commissioners’ salaries bear no comparison to City Council member pay: Jefferson County pays $7,821 per month while Clallam County pays $8,320 monthly.

The Port Townsend City Council members aren’t expecting their pay to rise to such levels. But at the end of Monday’s meeting, Sandoval called for a future meeting on convening the independent salary commission.

“We’re stopping good people from being able to serve because of the lack of compensation. That’s what’s a shame,” the mayor said.

“We’re really excluding people who could, you know, be wonderful for our community.”

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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