Raises OK, but drop the charts

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board March 17, 2014 08:21 am

Baker City Manager Mike Kee’s proposal to give the city’s 16 non-union employees a 1.5 percent pay raise, retroactive to Jan. 1, is reasonable.

That’s comparable to the contracts the City Council approved last year with the city’s three unions. Those deals include annual raises of either 1 percent or 1.5 percent.

Moreover, the non-union staff, which includes department heads, three public works supervisors and three assistant fire chiefs, hasn’t had an across-the-board pay hike since 2011.

The non-union raises would cost the city about $19,000, a modest amount as part of the city’s overall budget, and one that would not require the city to reduce any services.

We were not, however, persuaded that pay raises are needed based on the comparison chart that Kee gave to councilors to bolster his argument.

The chart compared Baker City’s non-union employee salaries with their counterparts in Pendleton, Monmouth, La Grande, Cottage Grove and Ontario.

Notwithstanding that Pendleton, La Grande and Ontario all have larger populations than Baker City’s 9,890 (substantially so in Pendleton’s case, at 16,780), the comparison relies on the misguided notion that the other cities are paying the “right” salary.

There is, of course, no such animal.

Yet in his report to the City Council, Kee wrote: “Baker City non-represented salaries have fallen behind other comparable cities.”

That’s mathematically accurate, but in terms of public policy it’s a meaningless statement.

In this case Kee can make a compelling case for why raises are fair — the non-union staff hasn’t had one for three years, and their union-represented co-workers have had annual raises, and will continue to for at least the next three years.

Next time we’d prefer city officials ignore the temptation to put together a comparison chart that implies Baker City is a town of skinflints.

That’s insulting to residents.

If the increases are fair — to both the staff receiving raises and the residents footing the bill — that’s the information that matters.