Port of C-W commissioners increase per-diem days

Officials say they serve as ‘volunteers’ after October under current rules

Port of Camas-Washougal commissioners won’t have to serve as “volunteers” during a year’s final months for much longer.

The commissioners approved a resolution on Wednesday, Nov. 1, to increase the amount of days they can collect per-diem in a single year, from 96 to 120.

“Based on the active schedules of the Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioners performing official duties for the Port or attending official meetings of the Port, the existing annual cap routinely results in no per diem compensation being paid in the last months of the year,” the resolution states. “The Commission of the Port of Camas-Washougal deems it likely that commission schedules, duties and obligations will not decrease but will rather increase over time. … The Commission believes it timely to consider an adjustment to the annual cap on per diem compensation to be effective for future Commission positions as required by law.”

Port commissioners John Spencer, Cassi Marshall and Larry Keister first brought up the possibility of raising the maximum amount of per-diem money they can collect per year during an Aug. 16 Port Commission meeting.

“My real concern here is that being a public official is a serious strain on one’s time, and anybody who is still working age really feels it,” Spencer said in August. “It’s a fair bit of work that is inhibiting our ability to earn a regular wage. … And it was pointed out to me that it’s not necessarily just meetings. When I was on the Washington Port Public Association (WPPA) board, I was doing a lot of desk work, and that can also be counted.”

Currently, the commissioners receive a monthly salary of $350 per month and an additional $120 per meeting (maximum of 96 meetings) per year, but only until they hit Washington state’s per-diem “cap,” which is currently set at $12,228 and “raises every few years per a Consumer Price Index calculation,” Spencer told The Post-Record earlier this year.

“I think it’s important that we explain to the community that we do run out of (compensation) for a lot of meetings that we (attend), but the work continues,” said Keister, who added that he’s attended roughly 120 Port-related meetings per year for the past several years. “We still continue doing the meetings. I always joke that we should get a ‘Volunteer’ T-shirt in October because that’s when we become volunteers.”

Washington State law provides for compensation to be paid to Port commissioners, establishes the rates of compensation according to gross operating revenues, and provides alternatively that each port district may establish its commissioner rate of compensation.

Washington State Constitution, Article XI Section 8, provides that the salary of a Port commissioner cannot be increased or decreased during their term of office, meaning that any adjustment to compensation shall go into effect only after each existing commissioner position stands for election and at the first date of the next term of each commission position.

Marshall ran unopposed for her position in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Spencer and Keister’s terms expire at the end of 2025.

“(These changes) won’t take effect until the next election cycle for you two,” Port Chief Executive Officer David Ripp told Keister and Spencer, “as well Commissioner Marshall, who had expressed that she will defer to tie in with the timing of your positions.”

The existing per diem compensation for the Port of Camas-Washougal commission position is capped for ports the size of the Port of Camas-Washougal at $12,288 per year. The Commission will abide by the state-established per diem rate of compensation, which the Official of Financial Management (OFM) is statutorily required to update every five years every five years, beginning Monday, Jan. 1, 2024; and follow the state salary amount per month as adjusted by OFM and provided for in Washington State law, according to the resolution.

“We’re approving this now so that it happens before (my seat’s) election, but all the changes in the resolution in terms of the 120 days will be a two-year delay, so it’ll impact our budget in two years. It’s more like a COLA (cost of living) increase,” Marshall said. “That was the push to get it done, because it does have to tie into the election cycle, and that way we can realize (the benefits) after the next election, and all the commissioners will be on the same page.”

Spencer initially proposed that the Port increase the maximum number of meetings per year that commissioners can collect per diem to 128, thus bumping the “cap” to $15,360 per year.

“The total cap limits the days, so what we’re then talking about is simply raising the cap so that we can fit more days in,” he told The Post-Record earlier this year. “I will note that I wasn’t able to find any documentation, pro or con, as to how much it helps to recruit and retain good public officials. But there is a gut level sense for me that, at minimum, we should at least be able to be paid for the meetings that we’re (attending). … The main point for me is that public service can seriously hamper one’s ability to earn a living. I want to make the job less burdensome for whoever follows me.”