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Four more years

Houghton approves contract renewal for city manager

HOUGHTON — The Houghton City Council approved a four-year contract for City Manager Eric Waara at Wednesday’s meeting.

Waara has been with the city since 2014. He received a 92% rating in his most recent evaluation, said Councilor Craig Waddell, a member of the administrative salaries and personnel subcommittee with Mayor Pro Tem Joan Suits and Councilor Bob Backon.

“He’s doing an outstanding job for this community,” Backon said. “I’m very happy with all the work that Eric has done for this town.”

The new salary of $128,627 comes after a 7% salary increase, which as usual is identical to the raise approved for city nonunion employees.

“He’s acquired considerable valuable experience,” Waddell said. “It’s currently difficult to find experienced city managers. An inexperienced city manager would take about three years to get up to speed on Tax Increment Finance Authority, grants, budgeting, municipal finances. As a consequence of wage compression, many cities pay more for a new city manager than for the ending salary of their departing city manager.”

The committee looked at comparisons to six other Upper Peninsula communities of comparable size with long-tenured city managers, who averaged about $101,689.

The contract said the city manager would be expected to work between 40 to 50 hours a week. In talking with Waara, the actual answer was closer to 70, Waddell said. However, the committee decided to leave the expectation in place for now and revisit it when dealing with future candidates.

Councilor Mike Needham, a former member of the subcommittee, noted Waara’s ratings had been consistently high, save for a dip in 2021 when there was a split among council members. He also questioned who had tasked the subcommittee with the process, and why the subcommittee had not consulted the rest of council for opinions before the meeting.

Waddell said the subcommittee had been spurred by a memo reminding them Waara’s contract was expiring soon.

Councilor Virginia Cole recalled the process for the prior contract negotiations in 2022 proceeding the same way as this year’s. Needham said the council had typically done some form of performance review, which the subcommittee then incorporated into its recommendations. The reviews are typically requested by the mayor, Clerk Ann Vollrath said.

Mayor Brian Irizarry offered to delay approval of the contract so the full contract could be approved. Needham said that would not be necessary, as he only wanted to comment on the process.

Councilor Robert Megowen also asked if the contract should be extended to five years, which would avoid changing a city manager at the same time as the council. Waddell said Waara had requested four years when talking to the subcommittee.

In other action, the

council:

• Approved the 2024-25 budget. The general fund had a balanced budget of $4,960,171. The city’s millage will remain at 15 mills.

• Approved a three-year collective bargaining contract with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Terms included a wage increase of 7% in the first year, followed by 6% increases in the following two years.

• Approved an ordinance adding a solid waste fee schedule to reflect the added downtown access to recycling. For individual spaces, the base monthly fee for one trash and one recyclables container is $18.25, with a fee of $5 for an additional recycling container. The monthly fee for a shared recyclables dumpster in the Central Business District is $5 per separated occupancy for service addresses with a private trash dumpster. Large residential and commercial dumpsters will pay the city-authorized collection service provider directly.

• Approved the five-year capital improvement plan.

• Approved a license agreement with Jon Lehtinen to allow him to make improvements to an alley at the rear lot lines in east Houghton between east Houghton and east Fifth avenues.

Approved a Kestner band shell request from Evangel Community Church from 4 to 9 p.m. Aug. 12. The public event is for people in recovery or seeking recovery from addictions.

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