A divided Port of Longview commission approved Friday hefty pay increases for some top executives, with commissioners saying they want to keep employees’ salaries in line with other ports in the region.

Commissioners Darold Dietz and Lou Johnson voted to approve a new administrative compensation plan recommended by an employee committee and Seattle-based consultant Milliman Inc. The port plans to spend $2.18 million on salaries for 28 employees next year, a 6.8 percent increase from this year.

The commissioners said they plan to evaluate salaries every two years to see how they compare to other Columbia River ports. According to the consultants, the Port of Longview underpays employees by an average of 7 percent compared to others.

“I like the idea of the structure. It gives us something to work with to promote people,” Johnson said.

The port paid Seattle-based consultant Milliman Inc. $25,000 to conduct the survey. The consultants recommended that employees who were above the regional average receive no pay increases. Others received raises as high as 15 percent.

The third commissioner, Bob Bagaason, strongly objected to the plan because it sets the port up for continuous pay increases to keep up with other agencies. He said he didn’t want to be responsible for out-of-control costs, especially when others in the community are hurting financially.

“When you two sign this, this is your legacy. Not mine,” Bagaason told Dietz and Johnson.

Dietz noted the port commissioners cut property taxes in half this year, largely because the port is growing and collecting more shipping and docking fees from tenants such as the EGT grain terminal.

He added that employees should get credit for the port’s string of four consecutive record years of revenue, with another possible record year around $32 million in 2013.

“We’re trying to give (employees) an industry medium,” Dietz said.

The survey included Columbia River ports that listed salaries with the American Association of Port Authorities, which includes larger ports such as the Port of Vancouver.

Bagaason said the port should have conducted a broader salary survey to include all Washington ports, which would include more smaller ports and likely have resulted in lower wage hikes. Despite the port’s recent success, Bagaason said he fears the new salary plan will be a tough pill for taxpayers to swallow.

“With our economy, our community the way it is now ... I don’t think it’s reasonable,” he said.

Port of Longview Top 10 salaries

Employee — 2012 salary — 2013 salary — Percent Change

CEO Geir-Eilif Kalhagen: $53,333* — $160,000 — N/A

Deputy executive director Norm Krehbiel: $118,656 — $126,828 — 6.9%

Director of Finance Kathy Oberg: $103,512 — $119,256 — 15.2%

Director of Operations Doug Averett: $110,232 — $115,740 — 5%

Director of Information Services Jennifer Brown: $90,936 — $99,924 — 9.9%

Director of Planning/Environmental Services Lisa Hendriksen: $89,316 — $99,108 — 11%

Manager of Business Development Laurie Cooley: $77,088 — $82,464 — 7%

Project Engineer William Burton: $86,892 — $87,840 — 1.1%

Senior Terminal Superintendent Rocky Fisher: $85,932 — $85,932 — 0%

Maintenance Superintendent Randy Grambo: $79,812 — $79,812 — 0%

* Hired for last four months of year

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