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Kalama Salary Commission: no raises in 2023, no pay in 2024 if departments cut

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Kalama Public Library and City Council chambers

An American flag flies above Kalama Public Library and City Council chambers.

KALAMA — The volunteer committee created to review elected city officials’ salaries decided not to increase mayor and council member pay for 2023 due to budget cuts made in other city departments.

During its Nov. 7 meeting, the three-member group also determined that for those appointed in 2023 or beginning service in 2024, all salaries will be suspended until “all departments can be fully funded.”

The commission considered “fully funded” to be 2022 levels without proposed cuts, said Mike Phillips, committee chair.

Kalama City Council members Thursday voiced concerns about the decision to suspend pay in 2024, which would affect three of the five council seats.

“I’m very proud of the work we have done as a council,” said Councilman Matthew Merz. “We have argued and debated and have voted differently many, many times, but I would never say that any of these people have not earned the meager $200 they get a month. ... Frankly, I kind of find this insulting for the work we do put in.”

Despite council members’ disapproval, the decision was final.

According to state law, any increase is not applicable to the term served by the incumbent. Three council seats are up for election next year and the other two and the mayor are up in 2025.

Phillips said the council’s efforts was not the deciding factor.

“When I got appointed, my idea was to make sure everybody got a raise,” he said. “But when we’re presented with the fact that they’re making substantial cuts to all departments, that would be fiscally irresponsible on our part. If we could figure out a way to save that money to help refund departments ... that was our logic and justification.”

The current councilmember salary is $100 per meeting not to exceed $200 per month, last updated in 2014. The mayor’s salary has been $700 per month since 2017. If all members attend all meetings, that totals $20,400.

Last fall, Councilwoman Wendy Conradi proposed increases to the mayor’s and council members’ salaries and detaching pay from meeting attendance.

Conradi said Thursday that she felt the decision to suspend pay in 2024 put the cart before the horse because not all budget decisions were finalized.

“In 25 minutes a salary commission cannot come up with a plan for the next two years when it takes us three, to four to five meetings to even go through the budget,” she said. “To me, it was an oversight on our part for not informing people on salary committee enough.”

The process outlined in the city code states the commission will base its decision from review of other council-mayor cities in the region, those of comparable size and economic conditions along the I-5 corridor. The commission determined Kalama’s salaries were comparable to similarly-sized cities, according to the meeting minutes.

Council members also raised concerns that suspending the salary for the three seats up for election would prevent people from running.

“We’ve talked about it before that we don’t do this for the money,” said Councilman Jon Stanfill. “But I’m concerned that when we have three positions up next year, we are limiting this then to only to people who can afford to volunteer their time.”

Councilman Scott Moon said he doesn’t have a problem with no raise, but agrees with Stanfill.

Councilman Steve Kallio said while he was originally against a raise, the commission should look at a different metric going forward. Even if the city reinstated every cut, it would still come up short because of the decrease in sales tax revenue, he said.

In 2020 and 2021, the city received a higher than normal amount of sales tax because of large construction projects, including the new elementary school. That revenue declined this year and is expected to remain lower in 2023 than those previous years, said Coni McMaster, clerk/treasurer.

The salary commission will meet again next year before the 2024 annual budget process.

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