Ketchikan’s borough manager would get a nearly $18,000 raise and seven-plus weeks of paid vacation in a new contract up for an assembly vote Monday.
The contract would raise Borough Manager Ruben Duran’s annual pay to $160,000 a year, up from $142,140.
Borough Mayor Rodney Dial says it’s a necessary — if perhaps unpopular — step.
“I totally understand that the optics and the timing of this are bad, but what I’m asking that the public consider is that sometimes you have to spend money to save money. And this, in my opinion, is one of those cases,” Dial said, adding that he was not speaking for the full assembly.
Dial says a nationwide search for a new borough manager, should Duran leave when his contract expires in December, would cost between $30,000 and $40,000. And Dial says Duran was underpaid to begin with — he started with a base salary of $110,000 in 2016.
“When our current manager agreed to take this position years ago, he was willing to come in and work at substantially less than what his experience qualified him for because he was moving to Ketchikan. And the people of this community got a really good deal,” Dial said.
The new contract also provides for the payment of a more than $55,000 “longevity bonus” for staying on for the duration of his initial five-year contract. The 10% bonus accrued over the past five years, was guaranteed by the previous contract and was calculated as part of his annual compensation — that is, his current pay includes that as-yet unpaid bonus.
Under the new contract, Duran would get 36 days a year of paid time off, up from 30 in the previous contract signed in 2016. That’s about a month and a half annually. A 2020 outside study of the borough’s compensation found Ketchikan led the market in paid time off.
Dial says the 36-day offer is fair — he says the manager works a lot of unpaid overtime.
“So it’s kind of a way to increase the package without really increasing the cost,” Dial said.
Duran had asked for at least $175,000 a year and 36 days off, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
“My request for [a] $175,000 annual salary was based [on] the combination of the market for this position in Alaska and my decades of experience,” Duran wrote in a letter to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor and Assembly.
At the current offer of $160,000, Duran would be paid more than municipal managers in other similar-size Alaska communities, including Sitka, Kenai and Kodiak. He’d be paid more than the previous Ketchikan borough manager when adjusted for inflation. City managers in Juneau and Ketchikan are paid more. That’s all according to a borough human resources analysis included with the document release.
Duran told the mayor and assembly that by declining pension contributions, he would save the borough upwards of $36,000 per year, 22% of his salary. But an analysis by the borough’s finance department requested by Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum says the actual savings is closer to $6,000.
That’s because the borough is still required to pay roughly 18% his salary into the pension system, even if he declines the benefit, according to the borough finance director. She adds that the borough manager position has not been included in the public employee pension system since 2010.
Duran declined a recorded interview.
“I’d prefer not to comment on a borough action that personally affects me,” Duran said in a brief phone call. He did not respond to emails asking about the savings related to declining retirement contributions.
Dial says it’s a matter of accounting.
“Does it save that much in retirement contributions? It does. Is that cost offset partially in other places? Yes. So I mean, it’s not a it’s not an inaccurate statement. It’s probably — you could provide a different context to it,” Dial said.
The borough’s previous manager, Dan Bockhorst, spotlighted a planned increase in the manager’s office budget last month. It’s since been the subject of several public comments to the assembly, including from public employee unions, according to the documents released.
But until the draft contract was released Thursday afternoon, it was unclear what, if any, raise the manager would get. The contract requires a majority vote of the assembly.
In other business, the Borough Assembly is scheduled to hold a work session to discuss a possible $6.6 million bond issue to improve the borough’s fields. At its last meeting, the assembly voted down a staff recommendation to postpone the planned bond issue until 2022 due to budget concerns brought on by the pandemic.
Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum argued voters should decide whether the bond issue was a prudent financial choice. The assembly would need to finalize the bond question by August 16 to get it on this year’s October municipal ballot, the borough says.
Finally, the assembly is scheduled to hold its second and final vote on an ordinance that would allow the borough to set new rules for dogs on Weiss Fields near Point Higgins Elementary School. Softball players have complained about fecal matter and holes dug in the field surface.
Borough officials have said they don’t plan to ban dogs from the field altogether.
Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Borough Assembly Chambers at the White Cliff Building. Members of the public can weigh in at the beginning of the meeting. It’s live-streamed on the borough’s website and local cable channels.