Kent Council, mayor: Not legal to immediately reduce salaries

Members of the Kent City Council listen as West Hill resident Reynold Eicke asks a question during a town hall meeting last October. Council members

Members of the Kent City Council listen as West Hill resident Reynold Eicke asks a question during a town hall meeting last October. Council members

Kent City Council members and Mayor Suzette Cooke discovered there’s little they can do to immediately reduce their salaries in order to help the city save money during this year’s budget shortfall.

“In some respects, our hands are tied by the law,” Council President Debbie Raplee said Wednesday.

State law prohibits a decrease in a mayor’s pay by any city during a current term to help avoid financial conflicts between mayors and councils.

“That’s partly so there is no retaliation between the Council and the mayor so the Council can’t decrease the salary,” said Michelle Witham, Kent city spokeswoman.

Cooke earns $102,192 per year for her full-time position. She does not receive cost-of-living adjustments and has not had a pay increase since she took office in 2006.

If the Council approved an ordinance to reduce the mayor’s salary, the reduction would not start until the mayor’s next term. Cooke’s first four-year term ends Dec. 31, 2009. She is up for re-election this fall.

Any reduction in Councilmembers’ pay also would not take effect until a Councilmember’s term has expired. The terms of Tim Clark, Jamie Danielson and Elizabeth Albertson expire this year. Debbie Raplee, Deborah Ranniger, Ron Harmon and Les Thomas have terms that expire in 2011.

The Councilmembers are paid $13,752 per year for their part-time positions. The Council president receives $14,496 per year. They do not receive cost-of-living adjustments, and they have not a pay hike since 2004.

All four Kent city unions as well as a group of non-represented employees voted last month to take pay cuts for the rest of the year to save the city about $1.3 million and avoid layoffs as sales-tax revenue and permit-fee incomes drop. Many employees took a cut in their cost-of-living adjustments. (See related story)

Several Kent residents contacted the Kent Reporter to find out whether elected officials were planning to take any pay cuts.

“You can’t do that,” Cooke said in an interview Tuesday when asked whether she would ask the Council to reduce her current pay. “You can’t change it during your existing term.”

Cooke, elected in 2005, said her pay would be about $120,000 per year if she had received cost-of-living adjustments over the last four years.

Cooke has not requested any wage increases or decreases for her position or the Council since she took office.

There has been talk among a few Council members about whether to address the salary issue.

“That’s a discussion for the full Council,” Raplee said. “I would not say there has been no movement. There has been some discussion but nothing formal.”

The Council formed a salary commission (of city residents) in 2002 that adopted pay increases in 2003 for the mayor and Council. The commission also approved cost-of-living adjustments each year for the mayor and Council, with the last increase on Jan. 1, 2004, Witham said. But the Council dissolved the commission in the spring of 2004. That ended the cost-of-living adjustments for elected officials.

“We abolished the salary commission because it put the responsibility (of salary hikes) on them,” said Raplee, whose first term began in 2004. “We’re elected to make the hard decisions. The commission had the authority to set salaries. The Council did not have a vote on that.”

Most Council members work full-time jobs in addition to their part-time work for the city. Raplee said the lack of a pay increase for Council members for five years doesn’t bother her, even though she knows part-time council members see higher pay scales in other similar-sized cities. Kent has a population of 86,000.

“You’re elected to serve and that’s where your heart should be,” Raplee said. “It’s not how about how much money you are paid.”

Kent city salaries

Mayor: $102,192 per year (full-time job)

Council members: $13,752 per year (part-time job)

Council President: $14,496 (part-time job)

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