The majority of city of Langley employees will receive a significant pay raise in 2023.
During a special meeting of the Langley City Council and the citizen-led Finance and Personnel Commission this week, the majority of the council approved a 7% cost-of-living adjustment. They also agreed on an additional increase based on merit, which will depend on the evaluation of each employee – the average is predicted to be 3%.
The increases do not affect the mayor’s salary. Mayor Scott Chaplin said he is still in negotiations with the police guild about the pay increases for the city’s police officers, which will differ from what the other city employees receive.
The discussion held by the council Monday night was not without disagreements, with some council members initially wanting to take a more cautious approach to salary increases and others wanting to move ahead swiftly. Department head officials also weighed in on the issue.
Right out of the gate, the mayor advocated for a proposed increase totaling 10%.
“It is maybe not as conservative in some ways, but if you consider the cost of replacing employees after they leave, I think it’s probably a good investment,” Chaplin said.
Councilmember Thomas Gill agreed that the overworked staff definitely deserves the cost-of-living adjustment. He advised that increases based on merit should not be guaranteed but still budgeted for.
Councilmember Harolynne Bobis was also in support of the pay raise, which she felt was needed after a minimal cost-of-living adjustment was approved last year.
Keeping an eye on the budget, Councilmember Gail Fleming sought guidance from the city’s Finance and Personnel Commission about whether or not the pay raises can be afforded. She also suggested that the city should wait until hiring its new finance director to make the decision.
Similarly, Councilmember Rhonda Salerno questioned if there was a scientific or a data basis for the proposed rate and worried about setting a precedent.
Councilmember Craig Cyr said he didn’t see it as a concept of precedent, since negotiations differ each year. He commented that while it’s easy for the council to compliment the staff on the hard work they’ve done, increasing their pay is a tangible way to show that appreciation.
Director of Public Works Randi Perry pointed out to the council that the first thing they did at the beginning of the meeting was approve a 6% cost-of-living adjustment for the building official, a contract position shared with the town of Coupeville. Furthermore, Perry reminded the council of a wage study that was promised a year ago that has yet to be conducted.
“It’s a really easy thing to say, ‘Let’s just cut the COLA,’ but unfortunately that puts us further and further behind of competitive districts,” she said, adding that Coupeville is offering a public works director position starting at $114,000 when Langley’s high range for the same position is $96,000.
“The majority of our staff does not live within city limits. So as you’re making these decisions, I really want you to think holistically about how we can move forward efficiently rather than just saying or throwing out a percent and expecting that staff is going to be happy,” she said. “There’s a lot of staff that’s been taking these hits and have been asked to cover tasks that aren’t in their regular job duties year over year over year.”
Police Chief Tavier Wasser said it was brought to his attention by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs that he is the lowest paid police chief in the state. Wasser’s current annual salary is $91,000.
“That’s fine. I’m not talking about my personal experience,” he said. “I’m just letting people know that there are already employees on staff that have had to make that concession or it’s part of their acceptance.”
Fleming said she didn’t see it as an “either/or” situation, meaning she wanted raises for the staff but also wanted to make sure it was done affordably. She echoed her request for the city’s new finance director to take a look at the issue in January. The city is currently in the process of selecting a candidate for the position.
Rose Hughes, a member of the Finance and Personnel Commission, pointed out that the incoming finance director will have a lot on their plate already.
“I think the council should decide on the COLA for the budget year and put that into the budget because otherwise you leave staff hanging, which I think is problematic,” she said. “And you also put the new finance director in a really difficult position right off the bat.”
After some discussion about a cost-of-living adjustment and an increase based on merit, however, Fleming said she would be comfortable with a 7% cost-of-living adjustment and a merit increase based on the evaluations of each employee. Department head officials present at the meeting said they would have staff evaluations in before the end of the year. An average of 3% for a merit increase was agreed upon.
The proposed increases were approved in a 4-1 vote, with Bobis voting in opposition. She voiced support for a higher cost-of-living adjustment.
In an email to the South Whidbey Record, Chaplin said according to his back-of-the-envelope calculations, the pay raises will cost the city an estimated $3,000 per month for all employees.
A first reading of Langley’s 2023 budget is scheduled for the city council meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5.