Port of Tacoma Commission to Review its Pay

By John Gillie, April 9, 2013, The News Tribune

It’s been 21 years since Port of Tacoma commissioners got a salary increase, and at least one commissioner thinks a raise might be in order.

Commissioner Dick Marzano has asked port staff members to develop a report comparing commissioners’ compensation at the state’s second largest port with those at other ports and public bodies in Washington and throughout the Northwest.

“I think it’s time for us to re-examine our compensation to determine if its in line with other compensation packages throughout government,” said Marzano. Marzano, a longshoreman, is one of two of the five Port of Tacoma commission members who work outside their part-time job as a commissioner. Commissioner Clare Petrich is a property manager; the remaining three are retired.

Port of Tacoma commissioners are now paid a $500 monthly stipend plus $104 per port-related meeting or function they attend. They can claim that per diem amount only once a day no matter how many meetings they attend that day.

Statutes limit that yearly total per diem to $12,535, raising the maximum port commission cash compensation to $18,535.

In addition to the cash compensation, commissioners receive a package of benefits similar to that given to full-time nonrepresented port employees. That package includes health, dental and vision coverage, life insurance and other benefits. The cost of that package is in excess of $21,000 a year, according to port spokeswoman Tara Mattina.

The port commission’s compensation is lagging behind that of commissioners at other Washington ports. Seattle port commissioners recently gave port commission members a $36,000 raise, upping their total compensation to $42,000 yearly.

Only one citizen appeared to testify at the meeting when commissioners adopted the raise.

At the Port of Pasco, commission members receive a basic compensation of $800 a month plus the $104 per meeting per diem.

Port of Shelton commissioners earn $1,250 monthly plus per diem. Port of Bremerton commission members receive $1,000 a month and per diem. Those last three ports are much smaller operations than Tacoma.

At the Port of Portland, the nine appointed commissioners’ sole compensation is free parking at the airport during commission meetings.

Commission members are working ever longer because their duties are expanding well beyond the traditional port duties to include representing the port on regional governmental bodies and industry groups, said Marzano, last year’s commission president.

The amount of time commissioners devote to their public job varies, but Marzano said most work at least 15 to 20 hours a week on port duties.

As a longshoreman, he said, he’s fortunate that he has the flexibility to vary his shifts to allow him to attend port meetings.

Commission Petrich said a higher basic paycheck might lure more working people to run for the office.

If the commission raises the compensation levels, those increased salaries won’t apply to any of those currently on the commission unless they run for re-election and win.

Commissioners Don Meyer, Marzano and Connie Bacon are seeing their four-year terms expire this year. All three may run for re-election.

“I think Commissioner Marzano has raised an intriguing question,” said Petrich. “We oversee what’s truly the big economic engine in Pierce County, and people with much less responsibility are paid more,” she said.

The port is enjoying a surge in business because of the move of a big shipping alliance from Seattle to Tacoma. The port has also signed several major and minor tenants, including a shipyard and a new liquid bulk shipping terminal on the site of the former Kaiser Aluminum mill.

Port Commission President Meyer said he wants to see all of the facts on the table before the commission makes a decision.

“I think it that now it’s a question of process, getting all the information we need to make an intelligent decision.”

Meyer has asked port staff members to broaden their research to include not only other ports, but other governmental governing bodies.

At the City of Tacoma, council members currently earn $41,269 a year plus a package of health and insurance benefits.

At the Tacoma School District, on the other hand, school board members make $50 a day they work on school business up to a maximum of $4,800 a year, said spokesman Dan Voelpel.

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