Does the city administration deserve bonus pay?

Some members of the City Council are questioning a bonus pay program that dolled out over $25,000 to the city’s top managers in 2008, a year of sharply declining revenues and substantial budget cuts.

“When you consider the economic distress in the city, and how it’s affecting the levels of service to the community, I’m disappointed that this bonus is being given,” said council chair Bill Knobloch on Tuesday.

The bonus pay program was established nine years ago to reward the performances of the city’s seven department heads. They can earn a bonus of up to 5 percent of their salary based on a year-end performance evaluation.

Councilwoman Kim Brackett, who has been critical of the city’s financial management and project implementation,  questioned whether managers deserved bonuses for last year’s work. She declined to comment further until she learns more details about the bonus program.

Knobloch said the program “sends the wrong message to taxpayers” who are unhappy with recent reductions in city services.

City Administrator Mark Dombroski noted that a 1999 council resolution obligated the city to pay bonuses to top staff. The bonus program’s aim, he said, was to boost efficiency and effectiveness in city departments.

Last year’s bonus payout was was less than the two previous years, which saw almost $40,000 paid in 2007 and about $30,000 in 2006, Dombroski said.

As a cost-cutting measure, the city administration budgeted no money for this year’s bonus program.

Dombroski plans to alter the evaluation criteria, tying it to specific goals or cost savings rather than the current scoring system, which rates managers on competence, leadership and other areas.

If a department achieves a substantial cost-reduction and meets other goals, a portion of the savings could be awarded to the department’s head, Dombroski said, who patterned his proposal on the bonus program at Seattle City Light, his former employer.

“In order to get a bonus, (a manager) would have to finish a work plan and do it with savings to the city,” he said.

Last year, under the previous system, the seven department heads earned scores of 68 to 92 percent. A manager’s bonus amount was calculated by multiplying his or her evaluation score by 5 percent, and then multiplying the sum by the manager’s salary.

Staff eligible for performance bonuses include the police chief, city administrator and the directors of the finance, public works, planning and information technology departments.

Most of the managers earn salaries in the $100,000 range.

3 thoughts on “Does the city administration deserve bonus pay?

  1. Mr Knobloch is right in his concerns regarding the payment of a bonus to City employees in these times. Unbelievable best describes the further mis-management of the City. Another example of the need for a Mayor or form of Gov’t. that has common sense!

  2. Simply amazing, a slap in the face of reality is what it is. Elimination of services, debt financing, no road maintenance, cuts in services, possible layoffs and voluntary employee pay cuts to avoid those layoffs. Then, the top administration gives themselves thousands of dollars in “bonuses”? Sounds more like Enron than a local government. I would like to see a full accounting of the money spent on this bonus program and the council to revoke whatever authorization gave it life. Someone making $100 to 122k a year in salary plus benefits (in a local government job such as the island’s) most certainly does not need another $5,000 in holiday bonus money to buy gifts for their family at Christmas.

    The comment about the city being “obligated” to pay these bonuses is a complete cop out. Even if there is some law that requires it being paid out, why couldn’t they have voluntarily gave that money back? Just like the employees gave back some of their salary, and their salary wasn’t a bonus but what they depend on to live & support their family.

  3. Bainbridge Island is fortunate to have Bill Knoblock, Kim Brackett, and a number of past and present city council members who are fiscally conservative and support financial accountability.

    I would not count on a change in government structure to fix the problem. Many city managers and county administrators are bureaucrats who have limited regard for taxpayers’ wallets.

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