By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Every three or so years, City of Keizer officials do a salary survey to determine pay ranges.
The survey led to recent pay raises for city manager Chris Eppley and city manager Shannon Johnson.
As mentioned last week in the Keizertimes, both Eppley got a 2.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase, the same as other Keizer employees. The two also got an additional 3 percent merit raise for satisfactory performance reviews.
The 5.5 percent increases bumped Eppley from $139,299.60 in annual compensation to $147,076.80 and Johnson from $126,360 a year to $133,390.44 in annual compensation.
Machell DePina, director of Human Resources, noted both Eppley and Johnson are on the last step of their salary scales. In other words, any additional pay raises for the two would be via the same COLA increases other employees receive.
Members of the Keizer City Council approved the raises by a 4-1 vote on July 7 (councilors Marlene Quinn and Cathy Clark were absent), with the four in favor not saying anything.
The lone dissenting voice belonged to council president Joe Egli, who questioned some of the cities listed as comparables in the salary survey.
“I feel we can tweak that (process) to make it better,” Egli said during the meeting. “I’m going to vote no now, because I don’t like the process we have now. I was going to be quiet and let this go, but I have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens.”
Last Friday, Egli expanded on his concerns with the process.
As it stands currently, salaries in nine other cities – Albany, Lake Oswego, McMinnville, Oregon City, Salem, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn and Woodburn – are looked at, in addition to Marion County and the state of Oregon.
“We compare with other local cities, to make sure we’re in line and paying employees properly,” Egli said. “Every city does this. Everyone is constantly raising the bar. Everyone is constantly raising the bar based on everyone else. We’re always going up. We rule out places closer to us in population because they are so far away.”
According to the comparative tax rate page from the 2014 Keizer budget – a document Eppley refers to as the “brag page” because it shows how much lower Keizer’s tax rate is than any other city on the list – Keizer’s population as of February was 36,795. Some of the comparable cities range from Woodburn at 24,330 to Albany at 50,720. Lake Oswego is nearly identical to Keizer, with a population of 36,990.
Salem, however, is far higher, with 157,770 residents.
“Geography and population are some of the primary priorities,” DePina said of the process for determining which cities are in the salary survey. “With the exceptions of Salem, Marion County and the state, all the cities listed are just above and just below Keizer in both population and geography. The three larger entities are included specifically due to our unique location. It is important to note that tax rates were not taken into consideration.”
That’s just one of the things Egli questions.
“We don’t even consider what our tax base is,” he said. “Why compete with cities with six to seven times the tax base rate? Our income is going up 2 (percent) to 3 percent but we’re giving raises of 3 (percent) to 5 percent each year.”
Keizer’s base tax rate is $2.08 per $1,000 of assessed value. Of the other cities on the list, Tualatin has a rate of $2.55 per $1,000 and West Linn has a rate of $2.56 per $1,000. On the other end of the scale, Albany is highest at $7.50 per $1,000.
Keizer’s total tax rate is $3.69, while the next lowest is West Linn at $5.24.
Egli also questions focusing on nearby cities while excluding other cities – Grants Pass, for example, has a population of 34,855 – from the survey.
“Salem’s population is nearly five times our size,” said Egli, who noted he was “absolutely surprised” other councilors didn’t discuss the topic last week. “We rule out places closer to us in population because they are so far away. I think it’s silly to do that. We got our last police chief (Marc Adams) from Coos Bay. We got Chris from Kansas. If we don’t pay Chris enough, is Lake Oswego going to take him? I don’t buy that.”
Egli noted the salary survey showed Eppley’s pay was 1.9 percent different than the average.
“Take someone making $100,000,” Egli said. “If you’re 1.9 percent off, you’re talking $1,900. If he goes to West Linn with that size of difference in pay, it’s not because of the money.”
DePina noted there is no such thing as apples-to-apples comparisons for city manager and city attorney salaries.
“It’s important to note there are changes to annual salary for other city managers for other reasons, such as turnover,” she said. “Depending on how that particular city chooses to proceed, they could pay significantly less, about the same or even choose to pay more when they hire a new city manager. That means that you could get different results each time you pull the numbers of a group of cities, depending on whether there was turnover within that group between the last time you pulled numbers and the current review.”
For his part, Egli went over the issue more with DePina on Wednesday and will possibly bring the topic back up at a future council meeting.