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Langley misses deadline on mayor’s pay | UPDATE
LANGLEY — 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 — had 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 Monday, but were told it would have no impact on Kwarsick’s salary.
The council approved the change anyway, but it will not take effect until January 2016.
Council members said the $30,000 was a good baseline that could be changed in the future if the council decided a future mayor would need more money to make ends meet.
They were also eager to bring the long-running discussion on the mayor’s pay to an end.
“Lay that baby to rest,” Councilwoman Rene Neff said after the council voted to 4-0 to approve the adjusted pay level.
Councilman Jim Sundberg, who was sworn in Monday night, has been a supporter of a salary level that would pay a “living wage” for Langley’s top elected official.
Some have raised concerns over Kwarsick’s plan to be a “part-time” mayor, and Sundberg said the city would be able to see how well that approach works during the new mayor’s term.
He then abstained from the vote.
Kwarsick told the council in a letter sent late Friday that it couldn’t reduce his pay because it would violate state law.
“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 would 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. 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. He submitted an official letter to city officials that said he would decline any compensation above $30,000.
City officials have checked with Municipal Research & Services Center, an agency that provides advice to Washington cities, and a legal consultant there said Kwarsick could decline a specific amount of pay and benefits or take the money and give it back to the city.
But if he accepted the salary and donated it back to the city, he would likely have to pay taxes on the full amount that he received 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 should stay in the city’s general fund, where the money can be spent on the community’s and council’s priorities.