Tonasket Council agrees on COLA/bonus combination

Light at end of tunnel for Tonasket budget

TONASKET – The Tonasket City Council agreed on a plan to settle the salaries of city employees for 2015, voting unanimously on Tuesday, Nov. 25, to adopt Council Member Scott Olson’s compromise plan that adopted features of a pair of proposals sitting before the council.

Olson and Council Member Jill Vugteveen, who comprise the finance committee, had proposed the city raise its employees’ salaries by 2 percent across the board, which they deemed a cost of living increase (COLA) as opposed to a “raise.”

Mayor Patrick Plumb, who questioned the council’s definition of a COLA, proposed taking the aggregate of the employees’ salaries, raising that aggregate by 2 percent, then giving each employee an equal share of that increased amount, thereby helping the lower-paid employees “catch up” to their higher-paid co-workers.

“My contention with the word … COLA as I understand it is based on Social Security, what they determine,” Plumb said. “Everyone else calls a COLA something else. The cost of living adjustment is 1.7 percent. (The council’s proposal) ended up being 2 percent. You do what you want, but it’s a raise.”

Olson explained where the 2 percent figure came from before floating his proposal.

“The 2 percent from the COLA came from the Federal Register,” he said. “I got it in June or July when we first had this conversation. I know we have batted around 2 percent and I know we can do 2 percent.”

Olson’s plan gives the employees a 1.7 COLA; the remaining 0.3 percent is figured from the aggregate salary 11 of the city employees and divided equally amongst them.

“Everyone gets a 1.7 percent cost of living increase, same as Social Security,” Olson said. “We take the extra 0.3 percent and divide it evenly among the 11 employees who only got cost of living. That would be (an additional) $132 per employee.”

The twelfth employee, Yvonne Kennedy, will get a separate raise after the council (following much discussion) determined that she had been hired in during this past year at a lower rate than other clerical employees’ entry rates.

“I think it’s a good compromise from where we started from a 5 percent raise as requested by the employees,” Vugteveen said. “I also appreciate the compromise they came up with the medical insurance.”

Olson Pans Parking Habits

The season’s first snow has just fallen, and already there are issues with parked vehicles blocking snow plows.

Olson reminded the mayor and city crews that parking on city streets between 2 and 6 a.m. violates city ordinance. In a number of areas, plows had to navigate around vehicles, minimizing the benefit of plowing in some areas.

“We made a commitment the last couple of years to push and enforce that,” he said. “Both Chief Burks and street department: we need to keep the streets open for the plows.”

Criminal Justice Tax Passes

Plumb wasn’t quite ready to celebrate the passing of the criminal justice tax, which after ballots from the Tonasket City Hall drop box were counted, held a 137-136 edge. The final count on Nov. 25 didn’t change that.

“The fat mayor isn’t quite ready to sing,” Plumb joked. But that indeed did end up being the final tally, meaning the 0.1 percent addition to the state sales tax (raising it from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent) within the Tonasket city limits will take effect beginning in April.

The measure had trailed by 12 votes, but that was before the 600-plus ballots in from the drop box were counted, which weren’t added in until the final count.

“Our box exceeded everyone else’s (in the county) by hundreds,” Plumb said.

Plumb said the city will collect 84 percent of the tax, the county will get 15 percent and 1 percent will go to the Department of Revenue as an administrative fee. The city won’t actually see any of the first trickle of those funds in its coffers until June, but Plumb said its already as good as spent. Plumb said the city is in arrears to Okanogan County for its jail fees due to rising costs that the city had been unable to cover.

“Jail fees alone will take this money, period,” he said. “We pay over $30,000 a year. At the moment we are so far indebted to the county for this that we’re going to have to take out a loan, which really sucks.

“We can’t provide that service for what we’re paying,” he added. “It’s actually a good deal for us.”

Personnel Policies

Council member Dennis Brown brought up the state of the city’s personnel manual, which includes policies and procedures for staff behavior.

Brown said he felt that department heads could do a better job of making sure those they were responsible for followed those procedures and needed to review the manual more often.

“It’s big,” Olson said. “I think every year would be plenty, so department heads know the policy. The problem is our policy is not clear and up to date. And that is our (the council’s) thing.

“I hope the Personnel Committee will get back together and get back to us with some proposals.”

Olson said he also hoped that the city could put together a social media policy.

“I’m sure they are out there,” he said. “Let’s find one. (A number of social media incidents) are an embarrassment to the city.”

“I echo that,” Vugteveen said. “We really need to address that.”

Plumb said that such a policy would need to be handled differently for elected officials, such as council members and the mayor, than it would be for city employees.

“There’s some things you can do for employees that you can’t do to elected officials,” he said.

Green Okanogan Ramping Up

Council member Claire Jeffko reported that Green Okanogan has received its 501(c)3 non-profit status and is preparing to ramp up its operations.

“They are very excited,” Jeffko said. “They also have a cardboard bailer. Next year during spring clean-up they would like to work with the city.”

Vugteveen noted that the organization’s site along Western had been noticeably cleaned up.

“It looks much nicer over there,” she said.

‘New’ Reserve Officer

The council approved Jim Rice as a reserve officer to cover upcoming personnel shortage due to new officer Matthew Beard attending his academy training early next year.

The Tonasket City Council next meets on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers, located at 209 S. Whitcomb Ave.

About Brent Baker

Brent, is a former reporter/photographer for the Gazette-Tribune and sometimes works as a freelance sports reporter for the G-T. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent worked as a full time reporter/photographer at the G-T from 2011 - 2014).