Times are tough and a 4 percent raise for city employees is just too much, the Langley City Council decided this week.
Convening at its regular meeting Monday, the council held its second public hearing on Mayor Larry Kwarsick’s proposed $11.3 million 2013 budget. Among the issues discussed was a built in cost of living increase, which would apply to all of the city’s 13.5 employees.
The raises amount to about $31,000. A 1 percent performance bonus is also being awarded to six workers who earned enough points through a city employee incentive program. They total about $3,550.
Although the raises, which would be employees’ first in two years, saw widespread council support during the first public hearing earlier this month, several council members said they had since reconsidered the amount.
Councilman and mayor pro-tem Hal Seligson said he learned that other junior taxing districts, including the Port of South Whidbey and the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, were offering its employees no increases whatsoever.
Seligson said he supports a cost of living increase and the incentive-based bonus program, but a raise closer to 3 percent would be more prudent as responsible guardians of public funds.
“We have a responsibility as fiduciaries to the taxpayers,” Seligson said.
He noted that the consumer price index, a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services, only proposed a cost of living increase of 2.8 percent.
Seligson sent out an email to the rest of the council before the meeting that explained his reasoning for considering a smaller raise. It saw support from the rest of the council during the meeting.
Kwarsick, whose mayoral salary would not be affected by the proposed raise, argued politely on behalf of city employees. After first thanking the council for not being opposed to a cost of living increase outright, he said he believed staff had earned the extra money.
They worked hard over the past year and accomplished a lot, he said.
“I think it reflects that,” Kwarsick said. “You always get what you pay for.”
For example, their efforts concerning the Second Street improvement project bore fruit this month when city officials were alerted that Langley is being awarded a $750,000 state grant for the project.
City staff have also been alerted that they have been recommended by federal reviewers to receive another $250,000 in federal grant funding for the project, though a final decision had not been made as of Monday.
Kwarsick said there is no better way than money to say thank you for all that hard work. He added that this was a chance for a small government to lead by example by rewarding its employees for work well done and to pay a living wage that will help retain employees.
In the end, the council voted unanimously to support only a 3 percent cost of living increase for 2013. The vote did not address the budget as a whole, however, as that will be decided at a final public hearing next month.