Park district keeping tabs on proposals to raise pay up to $15 per hour

(Image is Clickable Link) Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District has many employees - including lifeguards and swim instructors at Conestoga Recreation & Aquatic Center - who would be impacted by a minimum wage bill working its way through the Oregon legislature.

Proposals to raise Oregon’s minimum wage, currently a topic of debate in Salem, could cost the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District between $500,000 and $2.7 million.

While good for many workers, the higher wages could sting district users. To fill a sudden hole in its budget that a minimum wage hike might create, THPRD likely would be forced to raise fees for classes and other activities, and potentially cut costs by lopping off some programs and reducing maintenance.(Image is Clickable Link) Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District has many employees - including lifeguards and swim instructors at Conestoga Recreation & Aquatic Center - who would be impacted by a minimum wage bill working its way through the Oregon legislature.

The district is less likely to ask voters to bail it out with higher taxes. Keith Hobson, the district’s director of business and facilities, said that going to taxpayers with an operating levy would be “a last resort.”

Hobson said the exact effects of a dramatic increase in minimum wages — including the potential extent of fee increases — hasn’t yet been calculated. His raw estimates are based on current district employment and pay scales, which already are subject to modest increases.

“It’s all kind of speculative right now,” he said. “Obviously, the impact depends on what the final legislation looks like.”

“Definitely, we would have to increase our fees as part of our response” if a substantial increase in the minimum wage comes down, district spokesman Bob Wayt added.

Hobson said the district employs as many as 1,000 part-time workers, depending on the season. Most of them earn hourly wages that would rise under two proposals backed by legislators in the Democratic Party, which has majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Gov. John Kitzhaber has expressed general support for increasing the state’s minimum wage, which on Jan. 1 rose 15 cents per hour to $9.25.

Hobson calculated little impact on full-time employees, who generally earn more than the proposed minimums.

One proposal under consideration would raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2018.

At current wage levels, that rate would boost pay for at least 870 part-time workers, including those who teach classes and work in other programming capacities, and those who help maintain district parks and facilities.

That $15 proposal would cost the district at least $1.6 million if every part-time employee currently earning less was raised to that rate. However, if the district further boosted wages for part-time employees with special skills and job experience above $15 to maintain its current “wage equity,” the annual cost could balloon to $2.7 million, Hobson said.

Another proposal would raise hourly wages to $12.20 by 2017. That legislation would have a lesser impact, boosting THPRD’s payroll by about $500,000 for more than 700 employees, if across-the-board increases were applied only to employees currently making less.

The cost of that smaller wage increase would triple to about $1.5 million if the district built wage equity into the increases, Hobson said.

More than 85 percent of the employees that would be eligible for higher minimum wages under the proposals provide programming for the district. Programming includes aquatics, sports, recreation, special activities and natural resources. The remaining employees impacted work in maintenance.

Hobson said the district already has been adjusting fee schedules with the goal that users cover about 75 percent of program cost, although some offerings aren’t there yet. The district offers about 3,000 classes per year, often taught by part-time, temporary employees.

Besides fee increases, district officials could consider cutting back on the number of classes and other activities offered if personnel costs rise dramatically. Maintenance cutbacks might also occur, Hobson added.

Raising operating revenue with a voter-approved tax levy, as the Beaverton School District did in 2013 to restore some positions lost to layoffs, “really hasn’t been part of our discussions at this point,” Hobson said.

Before 2008, when taxpayers approved a $100 million bond measure to expand and enhance the district’s facilities, THPRD tested the mood of patrons with a poll. While many supported paying for better facilities, most wanted the users to pay for the majority of program costs.

The district has not taken a political position on the minimum wage proposals but is keeping close tabs on them, General Manager Doug Menke told THPRD’s board members last week.

“All we’ve tried to do at this point is make an assessment” of potential impacts, Hobson said. “We’re not taking a stand on this.”

Impacts to other agencies

While a major increase to the minimum wage would wallop THPRD, it might also be a significant cost for public schools but a softer hit to other local government budgets.

Beaverton School District: Roughly 700 of its 4,000 employees could be impacted by the highest proposed minimum wage, with a “very preliminary” cost to the district in the $1 million range, spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler said.

Employees who currently work for wages lower than the higher proposed minimum wages being considered are largely classified staff, especially temporary hires, including those employed in nutrition services (cafeteria workers) and maintenance (janitors).

City of Beaverton: Personnel costs would likely see only a minor increase because most regular positions already pay higher wages, spokesman Bill LaMarche reported.

The city’s job classifications with wages below $15 include mostly temporary workers, such as interns, library shelvers, police cadets, students and fill-in clerical workers. The city’s only permanent position that pays below $15 per hour is the lowest pay step for library aides.

In January, the city employed only 13 people in job classifications paying under $15 per hour. Most worked in city libraries, including seven temporary library shelvers, LaMarche said.

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue: Public Information Officer Stefan Myers expected little to no impact on district employees, who are primarily full-time professionals and earn more than the proposed minimums.

Tualatin Valley Water District: Spokeswoman Marlys Mock said the impact on the district would be minimal because the only TVWD employees who earn less than the minimum wage proposals are about six temporary maintenance workers hired each summer.

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