Port Orchard fine tunes mayor’s salary increase

The concept of raising Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola’s salary through tourism funds has received some fine-tuning, after the State Auditor’s Office expressed concern that the practice may not be in compliance with state law.

In December, the Port Orchard City Council voted a salary increase for Coppola from $19,738 to $62,169, pro-rated over six months. The first $20,000 was to be taken from lodging tax funds, adding tourism responsibilities to Coppola’s job description.

Even Coppola’s political opponents agree Port Orchard needs a full time mayor, and that Coppola deserves a salary commensurate with other local mayors.

Not all agree, however, about the source of the money that will support such a raise.

Coppola began receiving his higher salary on Jan. 1. The agreement, which introduced a performance-based model into the public service arena, was based on Coppola’s ability to bring enough new money into the general fund to make up for the salary increase.

In the meantime, city staff found that tourism and economic development was part of the mayor’s job description, and that it would be difficult to separate these duties for separate reimbursement.

The solution, now in effect, required a shift. City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick will perform tourism duties, tracking her hours for reimbursement from the lodging tax fund.

This reimbursement will transfer into the general fund, from which all salaries are paid.

This modification, which was made after months of exchanges between the state and the city, leading to a meeting with a member of the auditor’s staff last week, which will apparently satisfy compliance guidelines.

“When I first heard of this, I thought that the city could be out of compliance,” said Jan Jutte, director of the Auditor’s Office of Legal Affairs. “But they have worked very hard to make sure they are within the law, and have made some changes that look like they will not raise a red flag during the next audit.”

If compliance were not enough, there is another reason the city does not want to raise a red audit flag. The past 18 audits, supervised by retiring City Treasurer Kris Tompkins, have received perfect marks.

The new money received by the city could be hard to quantify, whether it originated from Coppola’s efforts or as a result of teamwork. But City Councilman John Clauson, who heads the finance committee, thinks Coppola has already earned the raise.

“There is no question in my mind, that the mayor has already done what he set out to do,” Clauson said. “He has brought in new revenue, and the annexation of Fred Meyer will more than pay for the salary increase.”

Clauson concedes that annexations happen with input from several sources, but said that “the mayor is the one who spearheaded this idea, and he is following up on a lot of other opportunities.”

Coppola’s initial raise was for a six-month period, and would be due for renewal in late June.

The action will be taken by the city council. In December, five council members approved the raise, with one opposed and one absent.

No council member has yet announced an intention to support or oppose the extension, aside from Clauson.

All salaries come from the general fund, and the money used to cover Coppola’s increase has not been received by the city. However, it expects a significant bump in sales tax from the recent Fred Meyer annexation, as well as an increased share of property taxes from the annexation of McCormick Woods.

Tompkins, who is serving her last months as treasurer, said she is keeping a close eye on cash flow and feels the city is in good shape — especially after a $200,000 interfund loan approved by the council on Tuesday night.

According to Tompkins, such financial moves would not be possible without a strong fiscal structure and a pattern of responsible financial practices.

“Port Orchard has always had a lean city staff,” she said. “When we have received extra money we have bought things rather than added people. That way, if the money source dries up we aren’t stuck with paying a lot of salaries and benefits.”

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