February 26, 2005 in City

Raises approved for county officials

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane County’s three commissioners are getting $7,000 pay raises this year.

The Spokane County Citizens’ Commission on Salaries approved the increase to $82,000 a year, a 9.3 percent pay boost at a time when most other county workers will receive raises of about 2 percent.

The salary commission also is recommending that the county’s auditor, treasurer, assessor, clerk, prosecuting attorney and sheriff get raises ranging from $7,000 to $13,000 – 8.5 to 14 percent of the elected officials’ current salaries.

All would take effect on March 1.

“I’m not going to give it back, but I’d do (the job) without it,” Commissioner Mark Richard said Friday when he found out about his raise.

As long as the increases keep elected officials’ salaries within the range of other like-sized Washington counties, Richard said he’s likely to approve the other raises as well.

The 10-member salary panel reviews the officials’ work duties and how much other counties’ elected officials are paid when determining whether local raises are warranted.

“We gave it to them, and we think they earned it,” said salary commission member Robert Coomes.

The group includes appointed representatives with human resources, business, legal and labor backgrounds, as well as two randomly selected voters from each of the three commissioner districts. Coomes is one of the randomly selected members.

The salary commission has the power to set the county commissioners’ salaries but can only make recommendations regarding other county elected officials’ pay.

County commissioners said they respect the salary commission’s recommendations and appreciate the group’s efforts to make their decisions outside politics.

Chris Marr was the only salary panel member who voted against the pay raises, saying he agreed with several county labor union members who testified that elected officials shouldn’t get larger raises than county staff.

In a letter submitted to the salary commission, the union representing county road crews blasted the idea of giving raises to elected officials in general and the county commissioners in particular, saying that road workers received very little in their recent contract.

“The bottom line is that the average Spokane County employee settled for approximately $55 per month. That amount is before taxes and out-of-paycheck medical increases of approximately $30-plus dollars per month,” the letter stated. “This amount is far too good for the County Commissioners, and any salary raise, if considered, should not exceed this figure.”

County Commissioner Phil Harris said union members have a right to represent their views, but there are other factors at play.

“If you look at the bigger package, my 12 hours or 13 hours a day, I don’t get any overtime or any step increases over the years,” Harris said, adding that county employees’ cumulative pay raises over the years and in the current three-year contract probably add up to similar percentages as those proposed for elected officials.

County Commissioner Todd Mielke added that a goal during contract negotiations was making sure that benefits remained strong and any raises didn’t force layoffs.

“They should start identifying who in their union should be let go first,” said Mielke of union officials complaining about their pay package.

Under the salary commission’s recommendation, Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk would get the biggest annual pay boost – $13,000.

Coomes said that amount was warranted because Sterk oversees the jail – something other county sheriffs don’t do – and because Sterk was making less than some of the people he supervised.

“The undersheriff was making more,” said Coomes of Undersheriff Larry Lindskog’s roughly $100,000 salary.

“You ought to look at how many people who report to us who are making more money than we are,” said Mielke.

Department directors who make more than the commissioners who oversee them include the medical examiner, county CEO, director of building and code enforcement, utilities director, county engineer and chief deputy attorney.

According to state figures, the 2001 annual per capita income in Spokane County was $26,107.

The last time the salary commission reviewed county elected officials’ salaries, in 2003, members declined to give or recommend any raises. Commissioners at that time – two of whom are no longer on the board – told the panel they didn’t want a raise.

Two years earlier, the salary commission granted substantial raises to the county commissioners and recommended raises for the other elected officials, which were later adopted by the commissioners.

Since 2000, the commissioners’ pay has increased 33 percent.

If the three commissioners approve the pay raises now recommended for their fellow elected officials, the auditor’s, assessor’s, clerk’s and treasurer’s pay will have been boosted by 26 percent in four years, the prosecutor’s by 29 percent and the sheriff’s by 28 percent.

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