SeaTac city staffer contracts approved by slim margin

The controversial topic of public employees compensation was the focus of the Sept. 11 SeaTac City Council meeting as lawmakers voted on a 4-3 vote to approve new contracts for city workers.

Employees will receive a 2.6 percent raise, which is 95 percent of the regional Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), plus qualify for longevity bonuses. In turn, the employees will pay 1 percent more on their medical insurance premiums.

The contract covers 2012 through 2014.

The previous contract with the city’s labor union expired in December. SeaTac reached a tentative agreement on Aug. 14, which union members have ratified.

Non-union employees will receive a similar deal.

Councilmember Rick Forschler said the city faces an unusual situation where the cost of living is going up but the economy remains down. He said it is unfair to others whose wages are not increasing or who are out of work.

He also noted lawmakers had anticipated a 2 percent employee pay increase when approving the 2012 budget. The almost 3 percent increase meant lawmakers also needed to amend the budget to account for the increases.

Forschler added that he had voted against the final budget because projected revenues were less than projected expenditures. With approval of the employee contracts, the budget will be even more unbalanced, he added.

The 2012 budget passed last November dipped the total reserve funds in all the city’s accounts from $50 million to $45 million.

Councilmember Pam Fernald said she basically agreed with Forschler and noted there are “no starving people” working at city hall. She suggested the city workers “tough it out a little bit longer.”

But Councilmember Barry Ladenburg said lawmakers had told Human Resources director Ang Hoang that council members would approve a 3 percent raise.

Mayor Tony Anderson said he was disappointed that council members were opposing the contracts after giving Hoang direction on how to proceed with collective bargaining negotiations.

Forschler responded that the council cannot make decisions in executive sessions not open to the public.

“The staff needs a rough idea but council meetings are where the decisions are made,” Forschler declared.

Councilmember Terry Anderson offered another reason for rejecting the contracts. She said she favored giving each employee the same dollar amount in raises but not basing pay increases on percentages.

Mayor Tony Anderson, Deputy Mayor Mia Gregerson, Councilmember Dave Bush and Ladenburg voted for the contracts. Terry Anderson, Forschler and Fernald voted against.

Council members, however, were unanimous in approving a community ad hoc committee to help explore consolidation of fire services with the Kent Fire District Regional Fire Authority.

Fire Chief Jim Schneider said the citizen’s group would hold three or four meetings to help advise a SeaTac task force that has been studying consolidation.

Schneider said a consolidation report should be ready for the council by November or December.

SeaTac already share a chief, training and other services with Kent.

In public comments, resident Earl Gipson urged the city to enact a code of ethics for its staff and city council.

He cited a pending lawsuit against the city as an example of why the code is needed.

In the suit, Leibsohn Property Advisors, a commercial real estate broker firm, alleges that the city obtained the SeaTac Center, at the corner of International Boulevard and South 154th St., without going through the firm, which had the exclusive right to broker a sale.

Leibsohn said SeaTac purchased the property in a sale disguised as a deed in lieu of a foreclosure so the city would not have to pay excise taxes to the state Department of Revenue or a commission to the broker.

The suit noted the revenue department has rejected the city’s claim it should not have to pay the excise taxes.

Gipson said the suit is set to for trial Dec. 3.

City Attorney Mary Mirante Bartolo responded that she couldn’t talk about the suit but the city expects a summary judgment to be issued at any moment.

A summary judgment would be a ruling on the case without the need for a full trial.

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