Council approves Port Orchard Mayor's raise

The Port Orchard City Council approved its budget on Tuesday night, including a portion that will raise the salary of Mayor Lary Coppola with the use of funds allocated from the lodging tax.

“The mayor has already used his many business contacts to spark interest in our city,” said Councilman Jim Colebank. “There are numerous projects in the planning stages that he can influence, and I believe our city will reap the monetary rewards.

“I believe that economic changes are cyclical,” he said. “If we act now, we will be ahead of the curve and pave the way for the future of Port Orchard.”

Prior to the meeting, five City Council members announced support for the proposal. One of those opposed, Fred Chang, moved to delay the vote to Dec. 23 so the other opposed councilman, the absent Fred Olin, could cast his vote.

Chang's motion died for lack of a second.

Those present voting for the measure were Colebank, John Clauson, Jerry Childs, Carolyn Powers and Rob Putaansuu.

“I do support the concept of a full-time mayor for Port Orchard,” Chang said, “but I don't think the timing is right. We don't have the revenues, and I am uncomfortable with the idea of using lodging funds to support an elected official.”

Coppola is finishing his first year as mayor, a part-time position for which he receives $19,738.

The proposal, now approved, uses $20,000 of lodging tax funds for a six-month period, during which the city will pro-rate his annual salary as $62,169, comparable to the mayor of Poulsbo.

“This will provide the mayor on a full-time rate for six months,” Clauson said. “If at the end of that six months we have not found other funding sources, I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, you are going back to part time.”

Coppola said the raise is appropriate because much of his effort is centered on tourism.

In a broader sense, he believes Port Orchard requires a full-time mayor to become a first-class city, and that he vastly underestimated the time it takes to do the job.

While opponents of the proposal agree the town deserves a full-time mayor, they take issue with the use of lodging tax revenues.

They also argue that Coppola understood the salary and workload when he ran for office, and that any raise should be approved by the voters.

“It’s certainly a time to tighten our belts and think of others,” said Robert Abel. ”Anything else in this climate would be inappropriate. The mayor, however, believes this is the right time to triple his salary, based on the business decisions that he will make — not what he has done so far.”

The council held an 80-minute session on Dec. 1, during which the mayor's salary raise was the only topic.

While the matter was closed for discussion after that meeting, several attendees addressed the topic during Tuesday's public comment period.

The strongest comments came from Abel, whose wife Kim was Coppola's predecessor as mayor.

“We need to look at making our mayor full-time or perhaps hire a city administrator,” Abel said. "But the change should be well-thought-out, with ample public input rather than being rushed through like this. Bailing out the mayor by tripling his salary in these tough economic times is insensitive and hasty.”

Others spoke out in favor of the proposal, including South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter, who said he was appearing as a private citizen.

Senter said, ”It is never a good time for public officials to talk about raising salaries, but I think we’re doing the right thing here.”

The salary raise will take effect on Jan. 1.

Coppola's hours will then be carefully logged in order to make sure he is spending time on tourism, according to City Treasurer Kris Tompkins.

At the end of the year, the city will be audited by the state and will need to prove the money was properly spent.

If this is not the case, the city would need to either discontinue the practice or return the money, according to Jan Jutte, director of legal affairs for the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

From this statement, the city should expect such scrutiny at the end of the year.

Jutte said the arrangement was “unusual” and that “the city will need to prove to us that the money is being used for tourism.”

Jutte said it was not the Auditor's role to step in unless requested by the city, and that her office had not received such a request.

Tompkins, however, said the situation was under control.

“We know what all the requirements are,” she said. “We don't need the Auditor to explain it to us. We will have a system that will track everything and make sure everything is handled properly.”

“Some will call this a raise,” Childs said. “I would call it a new beginning for our community and a stronger voice for Port Orchard, for now and in the future.”

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