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Spokane approves raises for elected officials despite potential reductions

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(The Center Square) – Despite a request to prepare for potential citywide reductions, the City of Spokane’s elected officials will receive salary raises next year amid a nearly $50 million structural deficit.

Spokane’s Salary Review Commission approved the mayor and city council raises on Tuesday, following a series of meetings over the past month. While the process is routine for even-numbered years, this time, it coincided with an effort to balance the city’s budget.

Previously, Mayor Lisa Brown had proposed a levy that could have raised around $40 million annually, plugging most of the hole. However, after numerous concerns, she pulled the levy and opted for other solutions, leading to a request to prepare for a potential 10% citywide reduction.

Despite that request, Brown will receive her first raise as mayor in January 2025, only a year into her first term. At that time, her salary will increase by 2% before going up another 2% in 2026, bringing the total salary from $179,148 to $186,400, according to the 2024 Final Report.

However, Brown’s salary could have reached $194,500, with the council president at $77,000 and councilmembers at $70,000, had an amendment from Commissioner Dycelia Weiss not passed. The councilmembers’ raises alone would have been around a 36% increase from 2024, amounting to 133% compared to 2014.

Instead, Weiss’ amendment limited the mayor’s raises to around 2% each year while fixing the city council’s raises at a 3.5% increase in 2025 and approximately 3% in 2026.

“Is it not the taxpayers that are paying these salaries,” she said. “I do not want to see that pushed off onto the citizens of Spokane just so we can make a budget increase.”

Commissioner Reed Jessen supported Weiss’s amendment in that it kept the raises within a more reasonable scope but voted against the increases as a whole. He said the officials should make the smallest amount legally viable for the city or nothing at all.

Once elected, there are no time commitments, educational requirements, or obligations to attend, vote or provide any function to the city. Jessen said people are attracted to the power of the position, not the pay.

“I’m not even sure any kind of raise in an environment where we have a $50 million structural deficit is wise,” Jessen said. “I think there will be significant backlash if we give these people a raise; I expect it to happen.”

While considerably lower than initially proposed, the amendment still outpaces salaries in cities of comparable size. For example, the mayor of Boise, Idaho, only makes about $150,000, with councilmembers at $27,500, despite a larger population, median income and home value.

Meanwhile, the approved increases in Spokane raise the council president’s salary from $66,114 to $70,600. Ten years ago, that salary was $55,000, corresponding to a 28% hike from 2014 to 2026.

Councilmembers will make $53,150 after the two raises take effect; while nearly $20,000 less than initially proposed, the salary is still far above that of other cities like Boise. Ten years ago, councilmembers only made $30,000 in Spokane, which equates to a 77% increase from 2014 to 2026.

Lee Taylor, vice chair of the commission, also voted against the salary increases; however, he reasoned that the raises were not large enough rather than too much.

Taylor said the original amounts were rooted in logic. If passed, the salaries would have reflected cost-of-living increases over the past few years while ensuring councilmembers earn the median income of a family of four in Spokane.

Instead, the commission is curbing that logic and data to avoid being uncomfortable with the raises, he said.

“I don’t think what we’re doing is going to have an impact on the city budget that is going to matter one way or another, but it’s messaging,” Taylor said. “What do you want these people to think about their jobs?”

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