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Broke city may reward top brass

While workers may face layoffs, managers anticipate bigger pay

The city is looking to cut expenses, yet more than 200 nonunion city employees would receive more than $1 million in pay raises during the next 18 months under a pay package coming before the City Council on Jan. 31.

More than 400 other employees would see their potential maximum salaries increase Ñ some dramatically Ñ if the council approves the pay plan.

Many of those receiving the raises and future increases are bureau managers and top administrators. They include the manager who has overseen the development of the package, Yvonne Deckard, director of the city's Bureau of Human Resources. Her maximum potential salary would go from $97,344 to $123,552, an increase of more than 26 percent.

In addition to managers and administrators, employees covered by the plan include a broad range of program managers, engineers and clerical assistants. Some would receive no immediate or future pay increases. The plan does not cover the council members or their staffs.

Portland Mayor Vera Katz defends the plan, which covers 1,285 nonunion employees, as long overdue. She said the city has not conducted a comprehensive review of the salaries of employees who are not represented by labor organizations since 1990.

'It's a matter of fairness,' Katz said Monday. 'These employees have not had their job classifications reviewed and adjusted for 12 years.'

But city union officials are outraged by the plan. They are especially angry because the city held union salary increases to 2.9 percent this year.

'The council told us they didn't have enough money for salary increases, but it looks like they've got enough to give big raises to the highest-paid employees,' said James McEchron, business manager for Laborers Local No. 483.

The council will review the plan at the same time it is cutting agency budgets because of the recession and an ongoing utility franchise fee dispute.

The council already has cut more than $4 million general fund dollars from Portland's current budget. It is expected to cut an additional $3 million later this month.

Also, the council expects to face a $14 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Bureau administrators are preparing budgets that will reduce programs and services. Ideas being discussed include laying off employees and closing parks, community pools and fire stations.

The council has already set aside $390,000 in general fund dollars to pay the immediate raises called for in the plan. The remaining money comes from other funds.

City Commissioner Charlie Hales does not want the council to approve the plan until it has settled all of the other budget issues.

'He would like to put off the final decision until we know more about the fallout from the current round of budget negotiations,' said Ron Paul, Hale's chief of staff.

Deckard isn't the only top manager who would qualify for a substantial pay boost. For example, the maximum potential salary of the city attorney would increase from $107,869 to $139,006, while the maximum salary of the planning director would jump from $107,869 to $123,552.

But even some administrators who would benefit from the plan questioned the timing of the proposed salary increases.

'This is not the time to be increasing salaries, especially not for the administrators,' said one program manager who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. 'At a time when the city is looking at laying off people, we're already being paid enough money to get along just fine.'

Deckard sees it differently.

'The market changes all the time, and we've fallen behind what other cities pay for the same jobs,' Deckard said. 'As a result, we're having trouble attracting and retaining the caliber of employees we need to produce the results we expect.'

Deckard said only 654 employees would see their maximum salaries increase under the plan. She said 217 would qualify for immediate raises retroactive to last July 1, the beginning of the current fiscal year.

Deckard also defended the size of the increase in her position's maximum salary, saying it was determined by a private consulting firm that surveyed cities across the country.

'The salary is not set for me, it's set for the position,' Deckard said. 'It's not what I say the position is worth, it's what the study says the position is worth.'

Deckard said she would not receive any salary increase until after her next annual performance evaluation, scheduled for October.

'I won't receive anything automatically,' she said.

The pay package is part of a larger overhaul of city policies governing nonunion employees. It is called the Strategic Plan for the Bureau of Human Resources.