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Salary Commission votes to increase mayor’s salary despite budget shortfall

By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

During a special council meeting on October 21, the Lynnwood City Council moved in and out of the virtual public eye working to combat a proposed 10% salary increase for Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, with cuts to councilmember salaries.

Yet while meeting for two hours in private executive session to pass an ordinance blocking the salary commission’s ability to make such changes, council members were informed that the Salary Commission had already filed new salary schedules with the city clerk the night prior.

Joining a scheduled but delayed public session due to the executive session, councilmembers expressed their frustration but understanding with the Salary Commission’s current process, hoping to take corrective measures with guidelines revised under which the Salary Commission operates.

“In the end, I think what they’ve done is open a Pandora’s Box that they don’t realize,” said Councilmember George Hurst. “We will need to take some corrective measures.”

“I’m not happy with the results, but also…it is kind of what it is, things have followed the process,” said councilmember Ian Cotton. “But I think there’s a lot in my mind of opportunities for improving the process.”

Councilmember Ruth Ross also expressed disappointment with the Salary Commission’s process but commented that it was in their position to evaluate what they determined as equitable salaries.

“Timing on this was unfortunate, the process of this was unfortunate but I think we need to take into consideration that when we decided to do a salary, it was because we wanted other people to look at our salaries,” said Ross.

In early June, all elected officials serving on the city council signed a letter stating that they did not want an increase in salary due to the financial and budget impacts of COVID-19.

“With this historic economic disruption, we request that any increases in elected cities set official salaries, not be considered for the 2021-2022 biennium,” read an excerpt of the letter.

Councilmembers Julieta Altamirano-Crosby and Shannon Sessions both expressed puzzlements as to how a salary increase was passed after elected officials, including the Mayor, stated it unwanted in the letter.

“I really had faith in the system that there would be mutual respect, because that letter was from seven to eight different elected personalities, asking them to not raise any pay because of the horrible budget situation we’re in,” said Sessions.

“I don’t understand the origin to pass this, I am really disappointed,” said Altamirano-Crosby.

The Salary Commission’s decided salary schedule increases the mayor’s annual salary 10.5%, from $112,278 to $124,107. It is set to take effect on January 1. The commission also moved to reduce councilmember position annual salary from $19,800 to $15,726. This change will not affect any of the current councilmembers while completing their respective terms in office.

Salary Commission chairmember Michele McGraw says that in determining the salary schedules, they looked at 10 cities that had populations between 20,000 – 50,000, five cities below 20,000 and five cities above 20,000 for comparison. The commission then compared the wages of Lynnwood’s elected officials with those of cities sporting similar population size, size of budget and sources of revenue, and median household income. These cities included Edmonds, Bremerton, Issaquah, Mount Vernon, and Redmond, creating an average of the comparable cities elected officials’ wages, finding Lynnwood’s city councilmembers were over it.

McGraw agrees that the timing of the changes was unfavorable with the economic state of the city but says that the Mayor’s salary for Lynnwood was underpaid compared the salaries of the same cities, especially with its forecasted growth.

“There was pushback from city council that we did not weigh the letter they had written us heavily and that is not accurate,” said McGraw. “We weighed it very heavily.”

“Above all else, we recognize the economic impacts from COVID-19. Lynnwood’s a growing city and deserves a salary schedule for mayor and city council that’s going to be competitive and fair to attract the right leadership and people when they become open for election in order to move forward,” said McGraw.

Councilmember Jim Smith announced that the only way to block the revised salary schedules from taking effect, is if Lynnwood community members sign a petition for a referendum to let voters make the final decision.

“It is now in the hands of the people of Lynnwood,” said Smith.

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