Langley’s incoming mayor continues to press for smaller salary

LANGLEY — The city’s next mayor has announced his first priority: asking the city council to cut his pay.

Mayor-elect Larry Kwarsick told the council during a budget hearing that he would present a proposal for a salary cut right after Tuesday’s election.

The issue of the mayor’s pay grew heated last year, after controversy arose over Mayor Paul Samuelson’s vacations out of state while drawing full-time pay for his work at city hall. Months of talk followed on the proper salary to pay the city’s top executive, with the council eventually deciding to reduce the salary from $53,532 in 2011 to $53,000 in 2012.

Kwarsick previously urged the council to cut his salary to $21,000, to no avail. Kwarsick, currently the city’s planning director, has said he will accept $26,000 for his work as mayor.

During Monday’s first hearing on the budget, Kwarsick said he was not giving up on getting a smaller paycheck. If the council wouldn’t bring the issue back up, he would.

“I certainly will be making a proposal if the council doesn’t initiate something after the election,” he said.

With the new mayor not being in city hall every day — Kwarsick reminded officials he’s still committed two days a week to his planning job in Coupeville — Kwarsick said city employees will take on greater responsibility.

“My goal is to build their capacity,” he said. “They will be the assistants to the mayor probably more than they can ever imagine.”

Even so, he tried to allay concerns that he would not be in Langley as much as needed.

“It’s a full-time commitment,” Kwarsick said.

Still, some on the council said they were worried the mayor won’t be available to the city on a full-time basis.

“I think it’s more than a two- or three-days-a-week job,” said Councilwoman Fran Abel.

“I’m not sure how concerned I am around the everyday running of the city,” added outgoing Mayor Paul Samuelson. “I am concerned about that, but I am concerned about how the city is represented outside of the city.”

“I trust that you have obviously thought this all through. I trust that you will do the best possible job that you can,” Samuelson added.

And for those with concerns, “you will get to prove them wrong,” he told Kwarsick.

If the council decides to cut the mayor’s pay, it must do so before the start of the next mayor’s term in January.

After the new mayor takes office, the council can only vote to increase the mayor’s pay, not reduce it.

At Monday’s hearing, council members also tackled the sensitive topic of pay for employees at city hall.

The draft budget includes a 3.7 percent cost-of-living increase for city workers, the first pay raise since 2009.

Councilwoman Rene Neff said she opposed any raises for city staff, however.

She also recalled her career as a public school teacher, and noted that she never received a raise the size that was suggested in the draft budget.

“To go to 3.7 percent seems huge,” Neff said.

The time wasn’t right for a pay increase, she added.

“I just feel it’s unrealistic and would be a slap in the face for a lot of people who don’t have jobs right now,” Neff said.

The council will hold additional public hearings on the draft 2012 budget on Monday, Nov. 7 and Monday, Nov. 21.

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