Tacoma Port Commissioners Moving Toward Increase in Salaries

By John Gillie, May 30, 2013, The News Tribune

Port of Tacoma commissioners appear poised to approve a salary increase Thursday that would more than triple base salaries for some commission members beginning next year.

The proposal by commission member Dick Marzano would increase compensation from $500 monthly to $1,800 a month for commission members elected in this fall’s election and later. None of the present five commission members will see their salaries increased unless they successfully stand for re-election.

Three commission members, Marzano, Connie Bacon and commission President Don Meyer, are running for re-election. The terms of the remaining commission members, Don Johnson and Clare Petrich, don’t expire this year.

If the commission approves the increase, the raise will be the first in 21 years.

During a discussion at the last commission meeting, all commission members spoke in favor of the increase, though Meyer wanted future increases determined by a body independent of the commission itself.

In addition to that basic monthly salary, commission members earn up to $12,535 a year in per diem compensation for every day they attend a meeting dealing with commission-related business. Commission members are paid $104 per day for attending those meetings up to the $12,535 annual limit.

Both the commission’s existing salaries and per diem compensation may see a small increase in July because of legislation that mandates the state Office of Financial Management determine a cost-of-living adjustment for both the per diem payments and the salaries once every five years.

In addition to salaries and per diem, commission members receive a benefits package of medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverage. That coverage costs the port about $21,000 per commission member annually.

While commissioners said the proposed increase is a significant amount, they said the increase in responsibility and the increased amount of time they now devote to the job merits a raise.

The commission now presides over a port with annual revenues of more than $124 million.

The Port Commission’s salary had fallen far behind the salaries paid to commission members at far smaller ports. Commissioners at six other Washington ports now receive salaries in excess of those Tacoma commission members receive.

Commissioners at the Port of Shelton receive monthly salaries of $1,250. Shelton’s gross operating revenues are $1.5 million a year. Port of Bremerton commission members earn $1,000 monthly. That port’s operating revenues are $3.3 million a year.

Beginning in January, newly elected Port of Seattle Commission members will be paid $3,500 monthly. That port’s gross revenues are $521 million annually. The ports of Tacoma and Seattle have similar seaport operations, but the Port of Seattle also operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and several marinas.

Port commission members say they typically spend 20 hours or more per week on commission business.

Meyer said he doesn’t want the compensation increased so much that people run for the job because of the salary.

“I don’t want to see this become a situation where we’ve got five offices in the port headquarters and administrative assistants to help us,” he said.

Commissioner Bacon said she believes commission members work hard.

“I think that’s ($1,800 a month) a fair number. We’re all worth that and more,” she said.

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