Baker City Councilor Dan McQuisten pinpointed a disappointing aspect of his colleagues’ decision last week to boost the salary range for the city’s recorder/human resources manager, including increasing the base pay by $9,400 per year.

The problem, McQuisten said, is perception.

“When we look back at our tax base and where we’re pulling that money from, the wages are something that everybody relates to because everyone at some level has a paycheck coming in,” said McQuisten, who was the only councilor to vote against City Manager Fred Warner Jr.’s proposal to boost the salary.

We agree with McQuisten, and we appreciate his advocacy on behalf of his constituents.

To be sure, the Council’s decision has a negligible effect on the city’s budget. It won’t require the city to increase any fees or to reduce any services.

But like McQuisten, we don’t believe the city can justify to residents such a large pay hike — 21 percent — just seven months after imposing a $3 monthly fee to augment the police and fire department budgets.

In his report to councilors, Warner wrote that the human resources manager is “an extremely important position which deals with a myriad of employee issues, labor union issues, laws and regulations dealing with employee rights and benefits.”

We don’t dispute Warner’s description.

But there’s no reason to believe that the job has suddenly become so vital to the city that an immediate 21-percent boost in the salary is warranted rather than a series of smaller increases over the next several years.

It’s telling, though, that the first factor Warner listed in his report wasn’t the crucial nature of the human resources manager’s duties, but rather how Baker City’s salary compares with what some other Eastern Oregon cities pay the employee with the same or a similar title.

Baker City officials have employed this tactic several times to justify salary increases, and it’s no more compelling, or reasonable, now than in the past.

Five of the six cities in the comparison — Ontario, Pendleton, Hermiston, La Grande and The Dalles — have larger populations than Baker City, as well as bigger city workforces and higher property tax revenues. (The other city, Prineville, is slightly smaller, with 9,645 residents, than Baker City with 9,890.)

Pendleton, for instance, with a population of 16,880, collects about $5.2 million in property taxes for its general fund, compared with Baker City’s approximately $2.5 million.

Whether any particular job in City Hall “deserves” a particular salary is of course a subjective matter.

But we’re confident that a significant number of the residents who help to pay those salaries are skeptical that a 21-percent increase is necessary. Their perception of the Council’s decision last week, as McQuisten rightfully noted, is likely to be negative, and rightfully so.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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