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City employee wages differ slightly in the Lower Valley

Every city in the Lower Valley, no matter its size, offers vital services to its citizens. A part of those services includes having a knowledgeable staff on hand to help with everything from law enforcement to street clean-up. However, how much each of those staff members makes is something that differs slightly from community to community.

For example, the fire chief in Prosser earns $6,435 a month, compared to $5,794 a month in Sunnyside, $5,166 a month in Toppenish and $4,356 a month in Grandview. However, in each community there are different factors contributing to the wage scale.

Prosser Fire District Three Chief Doug Merritt explained that his department covers an area that is 170 square miles and that he oversees two fire stations, one in Prosser and one in Whitstran. This is because the Prosser Fire Department and Benton County Fire District Three recently came together in a partnership that created Prosser Fire District Three and combines county fire duties with those of the city.

As for the other communities, both Sunnyside and Toppenish fire chiefs have held their current positions for a number of years, compared to Grandview's fire chief, who has held the position for three and half years.

Another position where years of service comes into play is in the role of city managers and administrators. Grandview City Administrator Jim Sewell, who has been an employee of the city for 16 years, currently earns $7,039 a month, compared to the Toppenish city manager who earns $5,968 a month, and the Prosser city administrator who earns $6,138 a month. Prosser City Administrator Ken Carter took his position in 1993 and Toppenish City Manager Scott Staples started in September 2002.

The office of finance director is another position that features people with a strong dedication to the community they represent. In Grandview, John Myers, city treasurer, has held his position for 25 years and is currently earning $5,532 a month. City of Prosser City Clerk/Finance Director Reggie Williams has held her position for 10 years and is currently earning $5,870 a month. In Toppenish the city clerk/treasurer, who earns $5,166 a month, has been with the city for 30 years, and has served as the city clerk/treasurer since July 1997. In Sunnyside, Bud Schatz has served as the finance director for numerous years and currently earns $6,064 a month.

Police chiefs through the Lower Valley all seem to be earning comparable pay. In Sunnyside, Police Chief Ed Radder earns $5,794 a month, compared to the Toppenish police chief who earns $5,166 a month and the Prosser police chief who earns $5,590 a month. Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet currently earns $4,667 a month, however Charvet recently retired and was rehired for the position of police chief and is no longer working full time.

There are differences between the communities in regards to their police forces. Sunnyside is the only community, when compared with Prosser, Grandview and Toppenish, that has police captains, police sergeants, police officers and corrections officers. For example, in Grandview there are no captains, four sergeants, 10 officers, including two detectives, and one corrections officer. The Prosser Police Department employs no captains, two sergeants and eight officers; while the Toppenish Police Department employs no captains or sergeants, but has 11 police officers, although there are currently several vacancies, and one jailer.

Another department that is run differently from community to community is the fire departments. For example, Sunnyside currently has 11 paid firefighters, not including a large number of volunteers, while Grandview has one paid firefighter and Toppenish has five, including the fire captain. Grandview relies strongly on volunteer firefighters, while Prosser has only a paid fire chief and assistant chief, calling on volunteers to help fight fires.

Another difference between communities comes in the form of public works directors. Sunnyside recently eliminated the position, while Grandview, Toppenish and Prosser each still have a public works director. In Grandview, Public Works Director Cus Arteaga earns $5,792 a month, Prosser Public Works Director L.J. DaCorsi earns $4,716 a month and the Toppenish public works director earns $5,166 a month.

The position of parks and recreation director is one that is visible in each community. In Sunnyside, Parks and Recreation Director Tom Byers earns $5,255 a month, Grandview Parks and Recreation Director Mike Carpenter earns $4,767 a month, the Prosser parks and recreation director earns $3,431 a month, and the Toppenish parks and recreation director earns $4,415 a month.

Sunnyside City Attorney and interim City Manager Mark Kunkler explained that it's important for communities to remain competitive when it comes to wages for city jobs.

Kunkler said it's important to try to get the most qualified people you can to fill the positions available with the money a city can afford.

"You need to be competitive to retain qualified people," Kunkler said.

. Elena Olmstead can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail her at eolmstead@eaglenewspapers.com

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