City increases salaries of some department heads and managers

Benny Westcott

At the Sept. 12 Sweet Home city council meeting at City Hall, the council approved by a 6-1 vote a resolution increasing salary schedules for non-represented city employees. The utilities manager will now make $6,213 more than before at Step A of the salary schedule. The library director will make $6,213 more at that step. And the public works director will make $7,856 more.

As part of the salary schedule update, the administrative services manager role is becoming the administrative services director role. City Manager Kelcey Young said the city is also looking to increase the salary of the financial operations manager.

The courts staff, which consists of one full and two part time employees, and utility billing, will be placed under administrative services in the reorganization.

Young noted in writing that the city has recently increased in population to over 10,000 citizens, and that the increase comes with additional requirements and challenges for city staff. She stated that the city staff is undergoing a reorganization in order to balance workloads, improve revenue, and increase services. “The department directors and certain department managers have uneven workloads and discrepancies in salaries,” she wrote. “This salary schedule is attempting to make the salaries more consistent.”

She said that “If we needed to replace any of those positions it would be a significant cost to the city, so we’re actually doing a smaller increase than it would cost to have to replace any of these roles. So while it does look like we are increasing, it actually can be a cost savings.”

Young added that “We’re trying to make this standardized and on a more comparable level to both each other and closer to some of the other cities that, quite honestly, we are starting to actually compete against. People are starting to look at Sweet Home as an area to start new developments, as an area to move to. We’re getting a lot of national and local interest, and as we’re going to continue to grow I think we need to make sure that we are retaining our people so we can support that growth.”

She then touched on some of the roles individually. She said that over the last few years and historically, the city has always had the library director compensated at a significantly lower pay scale than the other city directors.

But she complimented current Library Services Director Megan Dazey. “She’s a valued member of the executive team, and I think [she] should be paid at a similar level as the other directors,” Young said. “We’re trying to keep this a little bit more standardized as we’re moving forward, partially to retain the really fantastic team that we already have, and also partially because we’re already seeing growth in all of these departments.”

She said Public Works Director Greg Springman could easily have gone to another city and probably been paid close to twice as much.

All the councilors except Dylan Richards voted in favor of the pay increases.

Councilor Angelita Sanchez said that “Normally I would have a little bit of heartburn with increasing salaries and pay, but I understand that our dollars are not worth as much as they used to be because of inflation, and our staff work really hard to support our city – understaffed, underpaid, overworked – and I just really think that retention and recruitment are super important to support the city manager and everybody else.”

She added that “The little bit extra that we would spend to retain and recruit some people is going to serve us in a great way for a long time.”

Mayor Susan Coleman said “Retention is really important, and I think we have really quality employees working for us. Each of them contributes something to our city that is important and valuable. So I appreciate City Manager Young trying to standardize and also make some of these more equitable.”

Explaining his dissenting vote, Richards told The New Era afterwards “I voted no because I didn’t feel like it’s the right time to give pay raises, and they don’t necessarily deserve them at the moment. Especially with the economic outlook.”

Also at the meeting:

The council heard Keith Sullivan, who lives at Wiley Creek Senior Living, express frustration that certain crosswalks in town are not energized. Sullivan deemed this a safety issue. He said he was almost hit the weekend before at the crosswalk on Main Street in front of Bi-Mart. “One guy stopped, and the other one came within a foot and a half of hitting me,” he said. “I’m a vet, and I’ve paid my dues along with everybody else in [Wiley Creek],” he said. “There’s a lot of vets in there. And that definitely needs to be addressed, like yesterday, in due diligence.” He noted that Samaritan Urgent Care and Wiley Creek Memory Care will open up the first of the month near Wiley Creek Senior Living. “You’re talking about a lot of traffic there,” he said. “It’s kind of strange to me that they wouldn’t energize these things when they’re only not even three quarters of a mile away from assisted living.” He said “Not everybody’s going to be able to take a cab or something like that, so that’s more traffic going down Main.” Coleman said the situation has been a frustration for the city as well. “We’ve been waiting for Pacific Power to get some power to those, and for ODOT to wrap up their services to that intersection and others,” she said. “We will continue to contact ODOT and Pacific Power to try to make those things happen.” Sullivan said “Tell them it’s a very urgent thing, because somebody can get killed just going over to Hilltop. And you don’t want some 70-year-old gentleman or lady getting killed. That’s not pretty good publicity.” Coleman responded “Well, we also care about our citizens, so we don’t want anybody harmed.” Councilor Dave Trask said “That [crosswalk] by 49th is definitely in the wrong spot. Because they still come over that hill 60 miles per hour. And I think we’ve had three or four deaths there because of people going across there. “Log trucks come over there at 50 mph,” he continued. “And you cannot see [pedestrians] in time to get stopped. You can’t. They’re going to run over somebody. It bothers me. It really does. It just drives me nuts. It isn’t the right spot. And they don’t have the lights on it, for crying out loud. And 13th Avenue is the same thing. It still has not gotten the lines across there.” President Pro Tem Greg Mahler said he came to a stop in a vehicle on Main Street at 10th Avenue in front of A&W when another vehicle “flew right along” in the right lane. A pedestrian walking across Main with his head down got right in front of Mahler’s pickup and nearly collided with the vehicle zooming through the right lane. “If he hadn’t just flinched back, he was going to get plowed,” Mahler said. “It was too close for comfort. And there’s no stripes.” Young said “This is one of those pieces that unfortunately we don’t have much control over. However, we can continue to try to work with them. For a while they were very responsive, so we’re hoping to get back to that and trying to find out exactly what’s going on.”

The council unanimously approved a personal services contract with Community Services Consortium (CSC) that gives the city up to $610,708. Linn County reached out to support the city and to provide funding that is remaining from the Emergency Solutions Grant COVID-19 (ESG-CV) grant to be distributed through the CSC for up to the above amount. The city has been working with the community and multiple agencies on creating programs and initiatives to support those experiencing homelessness as well as supporting the community with clean and safe streets. The funding is very specific and can only be used to reimburse certain city expenses such as salaries or outreach and security, and to purchase certain equipment to be used for outreach and homelessness support. The funding must be expended by Sept. 30 and all purchases need to be invoiced by that date. Staff is currently working through a combination of reimbursements and new equipment with an estimate of up to $300,000 of the funds being reimbursed into the city’s general fund, and $310,708 in new equipment to mitigate homelessness concerns. Young said the city is considering spending the funding on a side by side vehicle to help for outreach to find houseless individuals that aren’t on main roads in order to connect them to services. Additionally, the city is considering purchasing a shower trailer or bathroom that could sit by the police department in the overflow area that would be available to those camped in that space. She said the city is also looking to use the funds on lockers and upcoming security costs. “I’m just so very excited about this money,” Sanchez said. “None of this would have happened without all of us agreeing to the homelessness state of emergency declaration. And I know that we had a lot of heartburn about where the funding was going to come from to support FAC with security, so the fact that we’re getting that reimbursed is incredible.” “It really was because Sweet Home led,” Coleman said. “There was some tension around that whole emergency declaration, but I want to appreciate Councilor Sanchez for bringing it forward to us, and it really has benefited this community.”

The council voted to forgive two interfund loans. One was a $206,000 loan from the transportation fund to the street improvement fund. In the city’s current structure, those two funds are now one. The other loan was back in 2018 for $800,000 from the water depreciation fund to the building reserve fund. Those funds were specifically spent on the City Hall remodel project. Contracted Finance Director Matt Brown said that during the 2022 audit process it was discovered that the yearly payments on both those loans had not been made. Young said “They weren’t remembered quite as well as we would have liked throughout the budgeting processes over the past few years.” She said the city’s current budget is already designed without the interfund loans. Young cited “The amount of time and effort it would take to move everything back and forth as opposed to keeping our budget moving forward.” Brown said “This was a transition time from your previous finance director to me coming in, and the interfund loans weren’t discussed or mentioned in the budget document, so I was unaware of them. So we never budgeted to make those payments.”

The council voted unanimously to renew a contract between the city and the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce regarding operations of the Sweet Home Visitor’s Center. The renewed contract eliminates Saturday visitor hours. Chamber Executive Director Lagea Mull said that while one would think that Saturday would be one of the visitor center’s busiest days, “people seem to already be out and about” on that day. The city has had a contract with the Chamber since 2016, during which time it has provided funding for the visitor center to the tune of about $15,000 each year.

Young said that the city is already sold out for vendors for the upcoming Harvest Festival at Sankey Park on Oct. 7. But Associate Planner Angela Clegg said she’s not yet turning off registration; rather, she is looking for ways to expand. “It’s very exciting that we’re already at this point and we still have almost a month,” Young said.