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Bellingham council members: Let someone else set our pay

The City Council opted to let an independent, seven-member commission set salaries for elected city officials during its Monday, July 11, meeting in council chambers.
The City Council opted to let an independent, seven-member commission set salaries for elected city officials during its Monday, July 11, meeting in council chambers. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

City Council members have decided to let someone else set their salaries and those of other elected city officials from now on.

The council agreed to form a seven-member salary commission that will set the salaries of council members, the mayor and the municipal court judge during its meeting Monday, July 11.

The commission will get 180 days, starting in 2017, to review and set salaries for elected officials. Every four years after that, another commission will be appointed to do the same work.

Until Monday’s 6-1 vote – council member April Barker opposed because she wanted to wait until January 2017, when the status of the budget would be clearer – the members had set their own salaries and the policies that guided how the mayor and judge were compensated.

Starting Jan. 1, 2013, council members’ salaries were based on $1,893 a month, with a 3 percent increase each year, which means this year the members should get about $2,069 a month.

Under a separate policy in city code, the mayor is to be paid 5 percent more than the highest salary level of a department head, with provisions for annual increases. The judge’s salary has been based on a 2002 portion of city code.

All three of those policies would be superseded by the work of the salary commission.

I too don’t want to be the person deciding what my salary should be.

Pinky Vargas, Bellingham City Council member

“I wanted to highlight to council members that it takes away the ability for council to set policy for how you want salaries to be determined,” Mayor Kelli Linville said during afternoon discussion of the topic.

Council member Gene Knutson said the council set its own salary back in the late ’90s, and “it doesn’t look good when we do this ourselves.”

Other members said creating the commission would create fairness and equity in the process.

“I too don’t want to be the person deciding what my salary should be,” said council member Pinky Vargas.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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