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For last time, UP council to start year with pay disparity

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on Dec. 27, 2012 at 7:30 am with No Comments »
December 26, 2012 5:27 pm

Veteran University Place City Council members will earn more than double the wages of their junior colleagues for a second consecutive year when the council reconvenes next month.

It will be the final year of the pay disparity for the City Council that emerged following its vote in 2010 to scuttle benefits that the elected leaders had enjoyed for a decade.

Starting in 2014, the council member will receive equal compensation, although the mayor and deputy mayor will continue to earn more money for their additional responsibilities.

Next year, however, a council member elected prior to 2011 is set to earn $36,791.78, while a colleague voted in last year is poised to take in $16,896. (Due to their larger salaries, Mayor Ken Grassi is set to make $40,463.76, and Deputy Mayor Denise McCluskey is slated to receive $38,255.76)

Why?

As I’ve previously reported, the City Council voted for a monthly medical allowance a decade ago. The allowance increased from $273 in 2002 to $1,496.58 this year to keep pace with rising health costs as prescribed by city ordinance. The allowance for 2013 is $1,526.98.

The allowance also came with a perk: If council members didn’t enroll in the city’s insurance or used only a portion of their allowance, they received cash. (The city has paid out the benefit as cash to all eligible council members since last year because not enough of them had enrolled in the insurance plan offered by the city.)

They also approved a 3 percent cost-of-living allowance on their base salary.

The council voted in November 2010 to eliminate the allowance and annual salary increases. But those changes only take effect when new or returning council members begin a new four-year term because the state constitution bars council members from adjusting their own compensation during the middle of terms.

As a result, newly elected council members Caroline Belleci, Kent Keel and Chris Nye earned half the compensation of Grassi, McCluskey and council members Eric Choiniere and Javier Figueroa this year.

Council members said last year the pay disparity is a non-issue because they sought office to better their community, not make money.

Grassi said he’s not heard a peep about it since it took effect, either at council meeetings or in private conversations.

“It has not come up,” he said.

The disparity will end when the four new or returning council members begin their terms in January 2014. At that time, all council members will earn $16,896 annually. The mayor will earn $20,256, and the deputy mayor will earn $18,240.

University Place’s mayor is not independently elected; every two years, council members select a mayor to run meetings and serve as the city’s ceremonial head and a deputy mayor to serve in the mayor’s absence.

You’re invited to follow Christian Hill on Twitter @TNTchill.

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