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Next Langley mayor gets his wish for smaller paycheck

LANGLEY — You call that a compromise?

The Langley City Council has agreed to a cut in the salary for the city’s mayor, but some on the council said they were having trouble with the description of the deal when they gave their initial approval to the 2012 compensation package last week.

Mayor Paul Samuelson currently receives $53,532 for an annual salary and a total compensation package that tops $74,000.

Larry Kwarsick, Langley’s incoming mayor, has been pressing the council for months to lower the pay for the mayor’s position. Kwarsick has said a more modest salary is appropriate for the city’s top elected post, but council members have been unwilling to budge much on the pay issue.

At the council’s last meeting, Kwarsick presented a new pay ordinance that would set the annual wage at $30,000, and give the mayor the option of opting in or out for medical benefits.

“The intention there is to have a reasonable wage for the mayor that would adequately compensate that person for their work efforts, but not turn the mayor’s position into a job in itself,” he said.

A majority of the council has been loathe to change the pay for the mayor, though, and has insisted that a large compensation package was needed to attract candidates who might not have the outside financial support to serve the city in a full-time manner.

But the salary level — which is one of the most generous in terms of salary size and population in Washington — has been controversial almost since its inception earlier in Samuelson’s administration.

Many in Langley called for the salary to be reduced after reports surfaced of Samuelson spending weeks outside of the state on vacation while amassing vacation pay that would lead to a large cash-out at the end of his city service.

State law prohibits city officials from cutting the pay of a mayor during the elected official’s term, however. That restriction prompted Councilman Hal Seligson to ask his fellow council members to cut the pay for Langley’s next mayor earlier this year, but the council agreed to a salary reduction of just $532. Talk of the mayor’s pay later resurfaced as a campaign issue.

Last week, Seligson noted the déjà vu moment.

“I find it somewhat ironic … that we have come back to where we were,” he said, adding that the new salary proposal had his full support.

“I find it somewhat gratifying that we could, through the actions of the mayor-elect, come to a reasoned compromise,” Seligson said.

But Councilman Bob Waterman said he was worried that someone who doesn’t have another source of income wouldn’t be interested in the mayor’s job.

“I find it concerning, or troubling, that a mayor is not a full-time mayor with a salary that is commensurate with a full-time position,” he said.

“A person who would love to be a mayor, but doesn’t have another source of income, is in a different situation than in your case, where you have other jobs with a salary,” he told Kwarsick. “Some people may need more because their other income is nonexistent.”

“You get what you pay for,” Waterman said.

“It doesn’t feel like a compromise. It feels icky,” added Councilwoman Fran Abel.

Abel also recounted the earlier discussion on the mayor’s pay: “We feel that this city needs a full-time mayor. We feel that that person needs to have full-time compensation.”

Abel said it was hard to revisit the issue, since the new pay proposal could not be separated from the person who had suggested it.

“It’s really hard to remake that decision because we have new personalities in front of us. I’m just really frustrated by the fact that

I can’t make this decision in a vacuum,” she said.

Seligson said he understood her sense of frustration, and recalled that the council had neared agreement on a pay reduction just months before, only to have it slip away.

He was on the losing end that time, he said.

And if Abel didn’t like the compromise, she could vote against it, Seligson said.

Seligson said Kwarsick went into the election promising to work for less.

“I think the people have spoken, knowing what it was that they were going to be getting,” he said.

“I think the circumstances will prove satisfactory to most people,” Seligson added. “We will get a good bang for this buck and we will come out ahead.”

Councilman Doug Allderdice said the proposal was “about as good as you can do.”

“I don’t know that you can do it any better than that,” Allderdice said.

A final vote is expected at the council meeting in December.

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