The Philomath City Council approved a new contract for the city manager, the 2023-24 budget and various other money-related matters at Monday night’s meeting. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath City Council tackled a number of money-related issues during Monday night’s meeting, including the narrow approval of a revised contract for the city manager and unanimous approval of a $35.5 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

Chris Workman has served as Philomath’s city manager since 2014. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A proposed contract for City Manager Chris Workman had been tabled at the council’s May meeting and sent down to the Finance and Administration Committee for negotiated revisions. Through the process, Workman agreed to changes in the contract in the areas of severance for health insurance coverage, required notice of resignation, references to ethical commitments and changing the terminology of a signing bonus to one-time retention payment.

A point of contention among councilors involved an item in the contract over Workman’s severance package, which cites a lump sum cash payment equivalent to 18 months of his salary if the council fired him without cause.

Three councilors voiced opposition to the 18-month payout.

“It’s not a reflection of Chris or my thoughts on Chris, it’s just a philosophical issue of binding our city to something like that,” Councilor Christopher McMorran said. “I move that we amend this contract to have a severance of 12 months rather than 18 months.”

Councilors Jessica Andrade and Matt Lehman both agreed.

“Eighteen months is a long time,” Lehman said. “To me it seems to me more like a preventative measure than a safeguard and I’d feel much more comfortable with 12.”

Workman’s salary per the contract this year would be $139,152, which includes a 4% cost of living raise. Future step increases and possible cost-of-living adjustments would occur each year on July 1.

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McMorran reiterated his strong opposition to the 18 months based on experiences he’s seen with similar contracts elsewhere.

“I’ve heard arguments that this is a buyer’s market instead of a seller’s market but on the other hand, I think that if a city manager is terminated without cause by our City Council, they have plenty of other employment opportunities,” McMorran said. “They don’t need 18 months of a parachute — they’ll be OK. So that’s where I’m at.”

Councilor Diane Crocker said that 12 months is the standard for a new city manager and Workman has been in the job now for some time.

“Our city manager has nine years of experience and is a great one,” she said. “We do not want to lose him. This contract is not just for any city manager — it’s for Chris specifically. So I’m in favor of giving the 18 months.”

Councilor Teresa Nielson had similar views.

“We’re talking about the city manager that has done phenomenal things for our city and is exceptional at getting grants and funding that have created some really good opportunities for our city,” Nielsen said. “Being with nine years of experience, finding a comparable city manager to replace Chris I think would be challenging for our city. That consideration is what makes me vote and feel more comfortable with allowing him to have that piece of his contract that gives him a little more stability.”

Andrade shared her concerns that the contract is not fair and equitable.

“An equitable contract would not give additional power to someone who already has so much power. There would be more safety given to those who are lower on the hierarchy of the hiring process,” she said. “I agree philosophically, regardless of who is in this position, that there should not be a payout in here (the contract). If it’s not something that we’re willing to do for everyone, then I don’t think it’s something we should be willing to do for a city manager.”

Workman had been working on a contract with a severance of six months, which he annotated on the proposed contract changes “does not protect me from one bad election result. A city manager is not a political appointment, it is a hired position. My continued commitment to Philomath should be matched with increased commitment from the city.”

Workman also referred to the residency requirement and if a no-cause termination occurred, he would need to “uproot my family to a different city.”

“I can tell you emphatically that you’re not going to find a city manager to sign a contract that does not have this type of language in here,” Workman said at the meeting. “It comes with the territory of hiring a city manager or even a city administrator. I do understand the concerns that the councilors have brought up and I don’t necessarily disagree with the principles there, but I don’t think 18 months goes that far.”

Workman said that he would be open to lowering the length from 18 to 12 months if the council would approve a two-step salary increase. A third-party compensation comparison study completed this spring suggested that Workman was well below the recommended salary for a city manager in a city the size of Philomath. But instead of burdening the city with an immediate and significant financial situation, he suggested a reconfiguration of the salary schedule and implemented pay increases over the next several budget cycles. A part of that is also the payout a one-time retention bonus, which based on 3% his agreed-upon salary amounts to $4,175.

Following a few follow-up comments, a motion to amend the severance payout from 18 to 12 months failed on a 4-3 vote (Ruth Causey, Crocker, Chas Jones, Nielson yea; Andrade, Lehman, McMorran nay).

An original motion to approve the contract then passed by the same 4-3 margin (Causey, Crocker, Jones, Nielsen yea; Andrade, Lehman, McMorran nay).

“I know it’s really hard to have some of these conversations … sometimes it’s just difficult to meet everyone’s concerns and interests,” Mayor Jones said following the final vote. “But I think we have a good employment contract here, we have a great city manager and I’m happy to have this moving forward.”

Council approves 2023-24 budget

Earlier in the meeting, the council unanimously adopted a $35.5 million budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year and a related resolution to impose and categorize taxes at a rate of $5.3005 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. There were no comments during a public hearing.

The evening’s money discussions opened with the approval of adjustments to the current fiscal year’s budget with three funds impacted. The moves related to the city’s purchase of land at Main and 20th streets, the streetscapes project and the water treatment plant construction. The end result was a city budget increase of $2.1 million with a new appropriation balance of $41.7 million.

Councilors followed with approval of the various types of state-shared revenues that come into the city. The estimated amounts that Philomath will receive includes $71,586 in general shared revenues, $110,290 from the liquor tax, $4,127 from the cigarette tax and $7,632 from the marijuana tax — all of those amounts going into the city’s general fund.

The city’s $449,187 share of highway gas tax revenue goes to streets and roads (99%) and paths and trails (1%). The public hearing drew no comments.

The council had planned to possibly take a vote on how to use just under $180,000 in remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds. The city had conducted a public survey that showed the top three requested projects as changes to the Clemens Primary School pick-up area, new restrooms at Skirvin Park and new playground equipment at the secondary shelter at Philomath City Park. Because of time constraints, the mayor tabled the discussion. There was a suggestion that the issue be discussed at an upcoming work session.

In other money-related matters:

• The City Council awarded the construction contract for Paul J. Cochran Memorial Park to Mid-Valley Gravel, which was the low project bidder at $213,071. The project had attracted two other bids that came in at $324,875 and $394,104.

• The council accepted a $370,000 grant from Business Oregon’s Special Public Works Fund Grant program to pay for water line and sidewalk installation along North 19th Street. The grant exists to assist cities in installing public infrastructure needed to support new, job-creating development. In this case, that involves the new Northernwood Industrial Park. Workman said the city is protected with prepared agreements in place.

• The city approved increases to land-use application fees based on rising processing costs. The last review of the fees had occurred in 2017.

• In a separate Urban Renewal Agency meeting, councilors unanimously approved a budget of $839,987.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.