In November, I lost my bid for mayor of Brookings, but I did not lose my interest or passion for Brookings.
The primary reason I ran for mayor was because I wanted more detailed financial analyses from our City Council.
Elections are the cornerstone of democracy; I respect the vote of the people and our current city government. I have a sincere respect for our mayor, Jake Pieper. He and I have spoken in detail about several issues since the election.
I also respect the right of every citizen of Brookings to be able to ask questions of their government. Asking questions of our city officials is important, whether it is an $800,000 salary increase, or why there are no hanging flower baskets on Chetco this summer.
I watch or attend every city council meeting. I also attend every city workshop and budget meeting, because they are not televised. I am often the only citizen there.
My interest in Brookings’ finances, operations, parks, festivals and residents didn’t end with the election.
I addressed several salary decisions at last Monday night’s council meeting, with questions that any salary compensation professional would ask. Are salaries competitive to retain and attract quality employees? Why are increases above cost of living warranted for some employees and not others? Should all union salary increases apply to non-union employees?
My questions were acknowledged by the council and somewhat addressed, but not answered directly. All proposed increases were approved.
I also purposed that an independent salary study be conducted to evaluate whether salaries are in line with like positions in comparable cities. Such studies are based on verifiable data and are affordable. The council recently considered a $20,000 study for a stop sign, and approves many engineering and other professional studies.
The city council and staff spent a lot of time working on the contracts that were approved Monday. They made their decision based on facts and/or reason. Reasonable conclusions, without solid data, may not be reasonable.
Example: There is one component of the recent salary negations, intended to save the city money, that actually will cost the city approximately $6,000 every year. Health insurance cost are increasing faster than inflation. City employees were paying 10% of their premium cost; the city proposed an increase to 12.5%.
During labor negations, the city agreed to give all employees a 1% compensation increase to help offset the additional cost to the employee. It appears that no one did the actual calculations prior to agreeing to this.
Employees paying 12.5 % will save the city $22,000. However, the cost for the 1% salary increase is $28,000; net cost to the city, $6,000 a year.
More importantly, several years from now the perception will be that employees pay 12.5%. In reality, they are paying slightly less than 10%. Employees and unions will be less likely to agree to any additional health insurance cost, thinking that they recently increased their share of the cost.
This decision appeared reasonable. However, it is $6,000 the city could have saved. More importantly, it will impact future salary negations, which could have additional costs for the city.
City of Brookings salaries have had a trend of increases higher than the cost of living, and other decisions, based more on reason than fact. Over time, these decisions based on reason can cause salaries to be lower or higher than comparable jobs in comparable cities. The result can be difficulty retaining and attracting qualified employees, or unnecessary costs to the city.
Salaries are one of the largest costs for any organization, and one of the most important decisions. An independent salary study would provide the city with data it needs to make the best decisions going forward, and guide salary decisions to retain and attract qualified employees … while assuring that taxpayer dollars are wisely spent.
Teresa Lawson is a resident of Brookings.