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Mayor’s pay emerges as Prop. 1 issue in Langley

Larry Kwarsick, the only candidate in Langley’s mayoral race, said Thursday he has contacted state officials to see if there’s a way he can avoid getting paid too much to be the city’s next mayor.

The roughly $53,000 salary that Langley currently pays its mayor has been a sticking point in recent years for some in the Village by the Sea. The city council, however, decided to keep the pay scale for the mayor at roughly the same amount when it adjusted the compensation package in June.

Kwarsick, however, had promised to work as a part-time mayor — with pay to match — when he announced a run for the mayor’s position earlier this year. He said this week that he has asked the Washington State Auditor’s Office to see if there is any way he can reject the bigger paychecks once he is sworn into office.

The mayor’s pay has become a major issue in the election, but not in the November race when Kwarsick will be on the ballot.

In the coming Primary Election, Langley residents will be asked if they want to change the way city hall is run, and abandon the council-mayor form and adopt instead the council-manager model. Under the council-mayor form, residents directly elect their mayor. Under the council-manager form, the city does not have an elected mayor, and city hall is run instead by a hired manager.

Both sides, those who favor the switch and those who don’t, have seized the issue of the mayor’s pay to promote the passage or defeat of Proposition 1.

Kwarsick said the city doesn’t need a mayor who gets full-time pay. And Langley doesn’t need a hired manager, either.

“The government organization itself has competent line managers who know how to do their jobs, who need guidance and leadership,” he said. “But they don’t need constant, full-time supervision by either a mayor or a manager.”

“We don’t know if the economy is turning around or not. We don’t know what’s going to happen the year after next,” he said. “It’s a bad, bad time to be burdening the citizens of Langley with an extra expense. There are some holes in the budget that are going to need to be plugged and this manager thing is going to be creating another big hole.”

Kwarsick said he has sent a copy of the recent ordinance that sets the compensation package for the mayor to the state auditor, and has asked for the state’s advice on how Langley can avoid paying the salary it has set for the next mayor.

While he could take the higher pay, and then donate it back, Kwarsick noted that he would still be taxed on the income. He’s hoping the whole return-of-pay issue can be avoided if the city simply doesn’t write the checks in the first place.

Kwarsick said he hasn’t heard back from the auditor’s office.

Proponents of Prop. 1 have said Langley can afford to hire a city manager, and they point to city’s current budget for the administration — which includes the mayor’s salary and benefits, plus other costs such as an assistant — that totals roughly $100,000.

Several candidates for the city council have already taken a stand against Prop. 1, including incumbent Councilman Hal Seligson, as well as Thomas Gill and Kathleen Waters.

Jonathon Moses, also a candidate for a council seat, is the only candidate so far to say he supports the change to a council-manager form.

Robin Adams, a candidate for a council seat who signed the petition to force a vote on the change, has not yet said how he will vote.

“I am closing in on a decision, but there are a few more knowledgeable people I want to hear from,” Adams said in an email to the Record.

Adams said he has set a deadline for himself of making a decision by July 15.

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