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Langley misses deadline, increase in new mayor's pay comes too late
Timing is everything. And in this case, it's bad.
Langley Mayor-Elect Larry Kwarsick said the city council's recent attempt to lower his salary to $30,000 — a move that Kwarsick himself suggested — has come too late.
The council gave its initial approval to a new compensation package for the mayor Nov. 21, and unanimously agreed to cut the mayor's annual salary from $53,000 to $30,000. Council members were expected to take a final vote on the new mayor's pay at the council meeting tonight.
Kwarsick said the change has come too late, however, and cannot be approved because it will violate state law. He sent a letter to council members late Friday notifying them that the proposed change in pay would not take effect until January 2016.
"As it turns out, timing is everything, and the timing of the change in pay (decrease) for a newly elected mayor is governed by the Washington State Constitution," Kwarsick said in the letter.
The pay for elected officials can't be lowered after their election or during their term of office, and Kwarsick said once the county auditor issues a “certificate of election,” a person is considered elected.
Island County certified the November General Election as official Nov. 29.
Kwarsick said Monday that he was undeterred, and will not accept any salary from his city service above $30,000. He said he will also decline any medical benefits.
"One way or another, it's going to happen," Kwarsick said of the cut in pay. "I'm hell-bent that it's going to happen."
Kwarsick said he had prepared his salary amendment for the city's review on Nov. 15, and that it was reviewed by City Attorney Grant Weed.
Weed never raised concern about the late timing of the ordinance, however. That's surprising, given that the city has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees related to ordinances that cover the mayor's pay and the topic of mayoral pay increases, and reductions, has been well-worn inside and outside city hall since late 2008.
Weed was also sent a draft ordinance to review before it went to the council for consideration last month, and no alarms were raised.
Kwarsick said he spoke with Weed about the issue Friday.
"Grant was apologetic for not catching the timing issue," Kwarsick said.
Kwarsick, who takes office Jan. 1, said he hopes the council will endorse the idea that would see him simply refuse to accept any paychecks that push his salary over $30,000.
City officials have checked with Municipal Research & Services Center, an agency that provides advice to Washington cities, and a legal consultant, Kwarsick said, could decline a specific amount of pay and benefits or take the money and give it back to the city.
If he accepts the salary and donates it back to the city, he would likely have to pay taxes on the full amount he receives as compensation.
Kwarsick said the amount that he does not accept as salary and benefits will likely total more than $100,000 during his term, and that the funds will stay in the city's general fund, where they can be spent on the community's and council's priorities.