Langley City Council cuts mayor’s pay, slightly

LANGLEY — The Langley City Council has decided to trim the salary it pays the mayor.

It wasn’t much of a haircut, however. The council reduced the mayor’s annual salary by $532, and pared back the benefit’s package slightly to exclude the mayor’s family from health and dental insurance benefits.

The 4-1 decision Monday came after extended debate over what the mayor’s job was worth, with some on the council defending the current annual salary of $53,532 for the mayor — one of the highest in the state, despite Langley’s small size — as reasonable.

Councilwoman Fran Abel recounted the many duties of the mayor, and said the current level of pay wasn’t enough. She suggested hiking it to $60,000.

Abel faulted Langley’s previous leaders for not putting enough into the job, unlike current Mayor Paul Samuelson.

“I frankly think that there’s been a problem with our part-time mayors, not because they haven’t been competent — they’ve been very competent — but because they have been part-time,” Abel said. “They haven’t taken full responsibility for the job. Because they couldn’t; they were doing other jobs, they had other lives, they weren’t being adequately compensated to take this mayor’s job fully in control and do it as it needs to be done.”

“As a result of that, this administration is cleaning up things that came to us, that were inherited this last four years because of part-time mayors in the past,” she continued.

“Our codes are not in good shape. There has been an overhiring of personnel,” she added, and said the current mayor also had to get the budget out of the red and into the black.

“We had part-time mayors that couldn’t actually give the attention to the job that they needed to give,” Abel said.

Councilwoman Rene Neff agreed, leaning over to pat Abel on the shoulder and adding “good job” when Abel finished speaking.

Neff said she had devoted many hours of research into what mayors are paid, and found that cities across the state don’t follow the same path when setting the salary of the mayor. Every city is different, and has different expectations for the mayor.

“There is no magic bullet,” Neff said.

Neff said she wanted a “reasonable” salary, and added that the current amount was “very reasonable.”

“It is a heavy responsibility, and in my mind, it should not be treated lightly by attaching a meager salary to it,” Neff said.

It was also something the city could afford, she added.

“We have literally spent the last three years paying that amount, so in terms of what can we afford, I think we can afford that,” Neff said.

Still, she said she was willing to consider setting the salary at $40,000 to $45,000.

Councilman Bob Waterman questioned whether the current salary was too high, though he also noted he wanted a pay package that would send the message that Langley wants a mayor to put full-time hours into the job.

“I’m not so sure that that salary level is still appropriate because of the work that Paul has done to get the budget in a sustainable fashion,” Waterman said.

“I’m not sure that I would leave it where it is,” he said.

Setting a salary is tricky, he added.

The pay level needs to be reasonable, Waterman added, so someone who wants to serve the city can take the job.

Waterman suggested lowering the salary, somewhere near $21,000, the amount paid to Neil Colburn in his last year as mayor.

Councilman Hal Seligson, though, said the council should determine the mayor’s pay based on the needs of the city, its budget and Langley’s ability to pay, and not the person who might hold the job in 2012.

He noted that Samuelson was not running for re-election, and that the only candidate currently in the running said the earlier pay level of $21,000 was an acceptable salary.

The council should also consider the current economic environment.

“We’re still not where we need to be as an economy and we’re suffering,” Seligson added.

He suggested working toward a middle ground.

“I’m a great believer in compromise,” he said. “I think some reasonable compromise between what we used to pay mayors, when Neil was mayor, and what we are paying now for Paul is something that is doable in the future.”

“I’m not Solomon. But, talking about cutting the baby in half, splitting the difference,” Seligson said, would put the salary at roughly $36,000.

Councilman Robert Gilman said mayors earn less than $18,000 in most small cities in Washington.

With the median level at $6,000, Gilman then suggested the city set the salary at $8,000, “which is right in line with what the vast majority of other cities our size pay their mayors.”

Gilman also suggested eliminating the mayor’s health benefits, which adds approximately $18,000 to the mayor’s compensation package.

Other council members were unwilling to budge on entirely eliminating the mayor’s health benefits, and some in the audience asked if the city would have to resort to a fundraiser at the Clyde Theatre if the next mayor was struck with a terrible health problem while in office.

After Gilman said he would reconsider, and agree to keep the salary at its present amount, the council voted to set the salary at $53,000.

Seligson was the lone vote against the salary adjustment, which was technically an increase in the mayor’s pay because the previous pay ordinance set by the council would have automatically dropped the mayor’s salary down to $21,000 on Jan. 1.

Seligson said later his vote was based on “my convictions.”

He noted that he had previously criticized the mayor’s salary as excessive, given the economy.

“People in this community are hurting,” he said. “I’m a progressive, but I think you have to live within your means.”

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