The Langley City Council will take a new look at the mayor’s salary at a special meeting on Monday, and city officials have vowed to take a comparative look at what mayors are paid elsewhere in the state as they decide how much Langley’s mayor should pocket for his work at city hall.
Talk of the mayor’s salary has echoed in earnest through the Village of the Sea since last summer, when controversy over vacation pay for Mayor Paul Samuelson created intense scrutiny of the size of his compensation package. Shoddy work on the ordinances that set the mayor’s salary prompted the council to rescind and rewrite the laws that gave Samuelson annual earnings that topped $53,000, and lawyers inside and outside the city warned the council that it had overstepped its bounds when it made Samuelson an employee of the city and dictated how many hours he had to put in at city hall.
Last week, council members acknowledged that the fix-it ordinance adopted in September that was meant to clean up any problems with the mayor’s pay was still flawed.
Next week, the council will look at a revised ordinance that strips away a requirement that links the council’s approval of the mayor’s “plan of administration” to any possible pay raise.
One thing is missing, however, in the draft ordinance that’s been sent to the council for review: the exact amount of the mayor’s monthly salary. Council members are expected to fill in the blank after a discussion about what other mayors are paid.
The city’s current ordinance sets the mayor’s pay at $53,532, plus benefits. That pay range is set to expire at the end of Samuelson’s term, and revert to an annual salary of $21,000 at the start of the next mayoral term in 2012.
Council members said this week they aren’t sure, just yet, how much the mayor should be paid to take an active role at city hall. When the mayor’s salary was set at $53,532, the council based the pay on the compensation earned by a city department head.
Now, council members have said they want to take a broader view.
“Times and budgets have changed so we want to be in line with what is out there now,” noted Councilwoman Rene Neff.
“A review of some comparable cities would make some sense,” added Councilman Hal Seligson.
Seligson said local factors should be taken into consideration.
“It would have to be done in light of the cost of living in Langley, as opposed to a city in a much more expensive or much less expensive part of the state, because that’s obviously going to have some impact,” he added.
Though Councilman Robert Gilman has said the city won’t be able to afford the present salary level that’s been set for the mayor, and also pay for a city administrator — or a city manager, if voters in August decide to change Langley’s form of government — no one on the council has said that the current pay scale for the mayor is too high.
“As far as I’m concerned, and looking at the job that Paul has done … I think it’s a very reasonable salary,” said Councilman Bob Waterman.
How much is enough?
It’s not known how many cities will be examined as the council contemplates the proper pay for the mayor.
But depending on how closely they look, city officials may be surprised at what they find.
After controversy arose last summer on the mayor’s pay, the Record conducted an extensive look at the pay rates for mayors in Washington state in cities and towns close to Langley’s size. The review found Samuelson’s current pay of $53,532 placed him at the top of the compensation list for all cities with a population of 1,500 or less (Langley has an estimated population of 1,150).
Samuelson was also at the top of the pay chart for all other mayors’ pay in towns with a population two or three times the size of Langley, with the exception of Coupeville, where Mayor Nancy Conard has an annual salary of $63,756.
Many at the time, including several former mayors of Langley, said Samuelson’s pay was too much, considering Langley’s size. But critics of the salary comparisons noted that Langley does not have a city administrator, and said Samuelson was worth what the city was paying him due to his hands-on role at city hall and the accomplishments that followed.
It’s true that Washington state is bereft of twin cities. No two towns are exactly alike; some mayors rely on the assistance of an administrator, while smaller towns make do with a clerk- treasurer or public works supervisor helping to manage the day-to-day work at city hall. Some cities have their own police or fire departments; other cities contract out. And some cities, the largest, employ thousands of workers and have budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
More people, more money
Comparisons of pay for elected officials typically take two tacks; the size of the salary itself, or the size of the city.
Generally, the larger the city, the more the mayor gets paid.
A Record review of mayoral pay, based on the 2010 salary survey conducted by the Association of Washington Cities, shows that in the 92 cities and towns with populations between 715 and 5,000, only 17 mayors in those towns make more than $10,000. Six receive no pay at all for serving as mayor.
Mayors make more than $10,000 in 94 cities.
A review of mayor salaries for 129 cities across the state shows that Langley’s mayor is one of the best paid in terms of salary size and population.
Samuelson ranks at number 24 in the top 25 list of best-paid mayors; just below Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, who makes $62,148, and just above East Wenatchee Mayor Steve Lacy, who makes $51,360.
Port Orchard is a city of 10,910, with a budget of $11.9 million in 2009 and 70 employees. East Wenatchee is a city of 11,870, with a budget of $7.8 million in 2008 and 30 employees, according to the Washington State Auditor’s Office.
The best-paid mayor in the state is Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who was paid $169,956 in 2009. Seattle has a population of 612,000, with 10,738 employees and a 2010 city budget of $3.9 billion.
Samuelson, however, is the best paid mayor in the state when looking at a per-capita cost of mayoral pay.
On a per-capita basis, with the cost of the mayor’s salary divided by the number of residents, Samuelson’s pay is at the very top of the 129 cities examined by the Record.
The cost of the mayor’s pay to each Langley resident is $48.01, according to an analysis conducted by the newspaper.
The next highest is Coupeville, with a per-capita rate of $33.73, followed by Yarrow Point, at $30.15.
Only two other towns of the 129 examined have a per-capita cost above $20 for a mayor’s salary; Hamilton ($24) and Ocean Shores ($20.16).
Most cities of those studied, 54, have a per-capita rate for the mayor’s salary between
$5 and $3. Those range from Sprague, a town of 495 with a per-capita cost of $4.84 for the mayor, to Duvall, a city of 5,990 with a per-capita mayoral salary cost of $3.
The largest cities in the state typically have small per-capita numbers, since the mayor’s salary is spread out over a much greater number of residents.
The per-capita rate for the mayor’s pay for the state’s largest city, Seattle, is 27 cents, for example. Spokane (population 612,000) is 48 cents, and Tacoma (population 204,200) is 41 cents.
One part of the puzzle
When the Langley council meets next week to talk about setting a salary for the next mayor, it will also help set the stage for the debate about whether the city will have an elected mayor in the future.
The council is expected to vote on a resolution to put a proposition on the August Primary Election ballot where citizens will be asked if they want to do away with an elected mayor’s position, and instead adopt the council-manager form of government.
Under that model, the council will pick a mayor from its own ranks, and the everyday operations of city hall will be run by a city manager.
Council members will also form “pro” and “con” committees that will write the statements for and against the measure for the county voter’s guide.
The meeting is 3 p.m. May 23 at city hall.
The Top 25 | Best Paid Mayors in Washington
1 MAYOR MIKE MCGINN
Budget: $3.9 billion (2010)
2 MAYOR RAY STEPHANSON
Budget: $505 million
3 MAYOR DENIS LAW
Budget: $252 million
4 MAYOR DAN PIKE
Budget: $67.5 million (General fund)
5 MAYOR PETE LEWIS
Budget: $165 million
6 MAYOR PATTY LENT
Budget: $146 million
7 MAYOR MIKE COOPER
Budget: $62.1 million (2008)
8 MAYOR JON NEHRING
Budget: $31.4 million
9 MAYOR JOHN MARCHIONE
Budget: $680 million (2009-10 biennium)
10 MAYOR SUZETTE COOKE
Budget: $160 million
11 MAYOR MARY VERNER
Budget: $160 million
12 MAYOR GARLAND FRENCH
Budget: $49.5 million
13 MAYOR DEAN MAXWELL
Budget: $45.2 million
14 MAYOR DON GOUGH
Budget: $178.7 million (2009-10 biennium)
15 MAYOR AVA FRISINGER
Budget: $32 million
16 MAYOR JIM HAGGERTON
Budget: $124 million
17 MAYOR MARILYN STRICKLAND
Budget: $2.8 billion (2009-10 biennium)
18 MAYOR DENNIS JOHNSON
Budget: $54.3 million
19 MAYOR BUD NORRIS
Budget: $20.5 million (General fund)
20 MAYOR JOE MARINE
Budget: $11.7 million (General fund)
21 MAYOR BECKY ERICKSON
Budget: $14 million
22 MAYOR NANCY CONARD
Budget: $5.3 million
23 MAYOR LARY COPPOLA
Budget: $11.9 million
24 MAYOR PAUL SAMUELSON
Budget: $4.3 million
25 MAYOR STEVE LACY
Budget: $7.8 million (2008)
The Top 25 is based on the 2010 AWC salary survey, information provided by the cities, and data from the Washington State Auditor’s Office. Budget figures are for 2009 unless noted.