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Mayor, council receive pay hike

While a decision by Coupeville leaders to give the mayor a raise caused a big brouhaha, a salary commission appointed by Oak Harbor council members quietly decided to give the mayor and council members comparably modest salary increases.

The eight volunteer members of the commission decided to increase the mayor’s salary by $660 a month, from $3,000 to $3,660 a month, plus medical, dental and vision insurance benefits equivalent to city employees’ benefits. That’s a pay hike from $36,000 to $44,000 a year.

The council members will get a $100 raise, from $425 a month to $525 a month, plus health insurance benefits.

The raises will go into effect March 1. The commission also decided to give the elected officials an annual cost-of-living raise equal to inflation, beginning Jan. 1, 2007.

Tuesday, Councilwoman Sue Karahalios wasn’t even aware of the increase, but said she was “just tickled” by the news.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “That’s more than I had hoped for.”

Karahalios said she wasn’t exactly disappointed in the mayor’s raise, but had hoped it would have been “a little healthier.” She said community members in the past have been discouraged from running for mayor because of the lean salary.

She points out that the Coupeville council recently increased Mayor Nancy Conard’s salary to $58,000 a year.

It’s somewhat difficult, however, to compare the two mayors. Conard works full time as chief administrator for a town of about 1,800 people. The town has department heads, but no town administrator.

Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen is the top administrative official for a city of 21,600 residents, but the city also has a $110,000-a-year city administrator. The position is currently unfilled. There is some disagreement among council members whether the mayor is a full-time position, but Cohen works more than 40 hours a week.

Oak Harbor council members set up the salary commission last summer. The last salary adjustment for council and the mayor was about seven years ago.

The council could have voted to raise salaries, but it would have caused a disparity on the council — with some members making more money than others. Under law, a council member cannot vote to raise his or her own salary. Increases wouldn’t go into effect until after the next elections, but all council members aren’t up for election in the same year.

City Attorney Phil Bleyhl said the salary commission asked for public input and looked at a variety of factors, including the need to attract a cross-section of candidates, a comparison of similar cities, the time since the last cost of living adjustment, the ever-increasing amount of work involved, and the fact that elected officials’ primary motivation is public service.

Bleyhl researched other similar-sized cities that have “strong mayor” forms of governments and found that most had both an administrator and a mayor. He said there didn’t seem to be any overall correlation between a mayor’s salary and whether or not the city has an administrator.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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