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Council sets dates for mayoral elections; mayor's salary to be determined

Federal Way residents will wait a year for their chance to elect a mayor.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to hold the mayoral election in November. Deputy mayor Eric Faison was absent from the meeting. The cost of the election was the driving factor in the decision. Holding the mayoral primary and general election on the same dates as the statewide elections, Aug. 17 and Nov. 2, respectively, will save Federal Way between $165,400 and $224,000, city attorney Pat Richardson said.

The office of the Secretary of State urged the city to hold its election sooner rather than later. But the city council chose the November date because it will have the least impact on the city's budget and the ability to continue offering its current level of services to citizens.

"This information we have about the costs cannot be ignored," council member Jim Ferrell said. "I would have liked to see it earlier, but it's not about what I want, it's about what's good for the people."

At the Nov. 17 council meeting, Ferrell championed for an early 2010 mayoral election. Ferrell was the face of the campaign to change Federal Way's form of government from a city manager/city council setup to an elected mayor/city council form. Ferrell also plans to run for the mayor position. But on Tuesday, based on cost estimates supplied by King County, Ferrell voted in accordance with his fellow council members.

Comparing costs

The city's total costs for its mayoral election will range from $254,400 to $286,400, Richardson said. Federal Way's expected contribution to the statewide primary and general elections is between $250,000 and $282,000, she said. These costs are static, set by King County and based on the number of registered voters residing in the city.

The city would have paid the fees regardless of whether the city council chose to hold the mayoral election in conjunction with the statewide election. The city will pay an added $4,400 for costs — voter's pamphlets — strictly relating to its mayoral election. All costs are estimates and could change before the election takes place, Richardson said.

In contrast, Federal Way would have spent approximately $419,800 to $510,400, had the council chosen to hold a mayoral primary in April and general election in August, Richardson said. Federal Way would have endured the static costs associated with an election ($250,000 to $282,000). Plus, it would have paid an additional $169,800 to $228,400, including voter's pamphlet fees up to $8,400, specifically for the mayoral election, she said. The cost estimates are higher because no other jurisdictions plan to place items on an April special election ballot, Richardson said.

Setting a salary

The city council will now decide, among other things, how to tackle the issue of an elected mayor's salary. It can decide the mayor's salary itself, through the adoption of an ordinance at a public meeting, or let the Independent Salary Commission perform the duty.

At Tuesday's meeting, Federal Way resident Nancy Combs said she wants to know the salary of the future elected mayor. Combs accused the council of planning to set a lowball salary for the position.

"I want to know, if I run for mayor, what's my salary going to be?" Combs said. "Is it going to be the salary commission that is going to set it, or are you little people up there going to set it and say 'That's what it is, tough'?"

City council member Dini Duclos said the council has not discussed or voted on the issue. The council must first create a job description for an elected mayor before a salary is set, Duclos said.

"We have to sit down and look at what the duties are and what the job description is and then put the salary down," she said. "That's how you do it. You just don't pluck a figure out of the air."

She asked for patience while the council performs its duties and prepares for a transition in the city's government.

"There's a lot of rumors going around there, and I wish you'd wait and see what the council decides before you listen to all these rumors going around," Duclos said.

The Independent Salary Commission currently sets the salaries and benefits for the council members and the mayor. The commission meets once every two years. It is scheduled to gather no later than May 31, 2010. Its meetings are open to the public.

When a salary is set, the city will publish it twice. Thirty days after the second publication, the salary will become effective. Citizens will have the ability to petition the salary amount if the process is undertaken by the Independent Salary Commission.

Mayoral election by the numbers

August primary election: $120,000 to $141,000

Primary election voter's pamphlet fees: $2,400

November general election: $130,000 to $141,000

General election voter's pamphlet fees: $2,000

Total: $254,400 to $286,400

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