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UPDATE:Langley council approves $10,000 raise for mayor

LANGLEY — The Langley City Council approved a $10,000-a-year pay raise for Mayor Paul Samuelson Monday night.

Samuelson has been on the job for less than a year.

The council voted and approved the 2008 budget amendment during its regular city council meeting.

Most amendment items were related to increased fuel costs and similar expenses, but the big ticket item was the

$10,000 raise for Samuelson.

The pay raise was initiated by city council members who are satisfied with Samuelson’s hands-on approach since he took office in January, said councilman Robert Gilman.

Gilman explained the move earlier this week.

“It looks like a huge increase, but compared to reasonable salaries, it’s not,” Gilman said.

The mayor’s salary is budgeted at $21,000 this year. The increase brings it up to $31,000.

In comparison, the mayor of Oak Harbor is scheduled to make a little more than $47,000 this year and Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard makes $61,298, but acts both as mayor and city administrator.

“We’re really appreciating the importance of the mayor’s leadership,” Gilman said.

In many small cities the mayor is an honorary figurehead position, backed up by a hands-on city administrator, Gilman said. However, Samuelson has been a very involved mayor.

With the latest increase, the mayor’s salary has doubled within the past two years.

According to the budget, the city paid the mayor $15,599 in 2006. In 2007, the council approved an increase to $21,000 a year. Then-councilman Samuelson voted for the increase.

The pay raises were approved less than four years after Langley residents approved a property tax increase to keep the city financially afloat.

At the time, the city cut staff and services and former mayor Neil Colburn even returned a year’s worth of salary to help the city.

“I continue to be very appreciative of what Neil did a few years ago, but

I also know it took a real toll on him financially,” Gilman said. “It may have been the right thing to do then, but it’s not really a good pattern.”

“We’re trying to make sure Paul doesn’t get overstretched,” he added.

Clerk/treasurer Debbie Mahler said the city can afford the raise because revenues have been stable.

“The city passed a property tax levy increase in November of 2005, so property tax revenue increased from 2006 on,” Mahler said. “We have also experienced increased sales tax in the last few years.”

Gilman added that Samuelson’s leadership style has helped save money in other areas, especially on the city’s legal bills.

Legal costs for 2006 and 2007 were $72,419 excluding Fairgrounds Road-related costs, Mahler said.

“This year’s legal costs are $3,672 so far — big difference!” she said. We are relying more on the services of Municipal Research Services, an organization open to all municipalities and counties in the state.”

Mahler added that the organization only charges the annual membership fee of $350.

Samuelson has also motivated a huge volunteer base, Gilman said, that has pitched in with professional expertise on various advisory boards, therefore cutting back on staff time. The volunteers have also helped beautify City Hall at no cost.

Gilman said Langley has also saved money by not having a city administrator.

Former city administrator Walt Blackford was budgeted to make $51,368 in 2008, but he was let go when Samuelson took over as mayor. Samuelson then hired a part-time administrative assistant to the mayor.

The mayor’s special assistant, Kathleen Landel, is budgeted to make a maximum of $31,200 this year.

Gilman said the city council is still exploring the details of the increase, adding that it is possible that Samuelson may continue to get the $21,000 as base pay, and the additional $10,000 may be paid during times that require additional effort or time by the mayor.

The funds are available in early October. In order to tap into the funding, the city council still has to pass an ordinance that would outline the details of the pay raise, Gilman said.

Samuelson said he is appreciative, but added he had very little to do with the budget change.

“I know very little of any of this,” he said. “I know the council is happy with the work I do and I appreciate their trust. I’m grateful for what they are doing.”

Samuelson said he spends about 50 hours a week working as the mayor and he has implemented many money-saving system changes in the nine months since he took office.

Considering that the funds are available, he said he has no concerns about the large pay raise that comes less than five years after Langley faced serious financial trouble.

At the city council meeting Monday, other council members supported the change.

“We’re catching up to reality,” Councilwoman Rene Neff said.

Councilman Russell Sparkman wanted to know if the raise was a permanent change. City officials said next year’s salary is subject to the new budget.

A public hearing was held, but public input was minimal.

Don Jewett, a South Ender living outside Langley’s city limits, said the increase in the mayor’s salary was a good move.

“I think you’ve already earned it,” Jewett said.

Samuelson said being the mayor of Langley is a labor of love for him.

“I would do the job the same way I do no matter what,” he said.

The council voted unanimously for the funding increase. Councilmen Jim Recupero and Bob Waterman were absent.

Also during Monday’s meeting, the city council discussed the 2009 budget. Mahler said a first draft will be available in October and she expects the budget to be finalized in late November.

Gilman said some new spending priorities will become apparent, but didn’t elaborate. Samuelson also said the city will aggressively pursue grant options.

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