By Meg Olson
Despite suggestions that the amount was an insult, fire chief Christopher Carleton said he was happy with a 3.5 percent salary increase in 2020.
“I’m very happy and proud to be able to serve this community,” Carleton said at the September 11 meeting of the commissioners of Whatcom County Fire District 5. “I appreciate the 3.5 and in 2020 if you want to consider bumping that up, I’d be grateful, but if you don’t I’m happy with that.”
Following a discussion in executive session commissioner Pat Harper suggested increasing the chief’s salary by 3.3 percent effective in January as that would not impact the current budget. Fellow commissioner Rate Newman said he favored 3.5 percent as the chief did not receive an increase in 2019. “We also need to consider what the chief brings to the table in terms of training and expertise,” he said. Commission chair Virginia Lester also favored the 3.5 percent and the motion to grant the increase was approved unanimously.
Chief Carleton currently earns $60,000 per year for a full-time position, which commissioners approved June 2017, effective January 2018. Prior to that he earned $50,550 in 2016 and 2017. Carleton did not receive a salary increase for the 2019 budget year.
From the audience, former commissioner Bill Meursing said that with no salary increase in 2019, giving Carleton 3.5 percent for 2020 was not allowing his salary to keep pace with inflation. He said a minimum five or six percent increase was warranted. “It seems the chief is falling behind on the cost of living and that’s not fair,” he said. “Two thousand a year? That’s all you guys can afford compared to what chief Carleton puts in? In my view, 3.5 percent is a complete insult.”
Lester suggested they revisit the matter in January when commissioners had more information about income and expenses in the 2020 budget.
Carleton said he was happy to look at the issue again at that time and that any further adjustments to his salary should come only once budgetary consideration had been given to an increase for assistant chief John Shields, added incentives for volunteers and operational stability. “I don’t want to be that chief who’s making a lot of money and there’s none left for operations,” he said.
At the close of the meeting, Lester suggested making the increase in Carleton’s salary effective immediately, which was unanimously approved.