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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County 2016 budget includes pay raise for most employees

Most of Spokane County’s roughly 2,000 employees will be getting a pay increase for the first time in five years.

So-called “non-uniform employees,” or workers not directly involved in criminal justice, ratified a contract in October that grants them a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2015 and 2016.

The wage increase is “modest,” said Gordon Smith Jr., the local representative of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees.

“We basically ended up with the status quo and a disappointing (cost-of-living adjustment),” Smith said.

While clerical county workers have not seen an across-the-board pay increase since 2011, the national cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits have increased at least 1.5 percent every year. For just the third time in 40 years this January, there will not be an automatic increase to benefits received by Social Security beneficiaries in the United States, according to the U.S. Office of Social Security.

“It wasn’t just looking at this proposal in a vacuum,” said Smith, noting that even with the wage increase, the contract was narrowly approved by union members given the long period with no raises.

The salary adjustments are written into the county’s 2016 budget, passed quietly this week by Spokane County Commissioners.

The agreement came with the caveat from Spokane County that layoffs might result from the wage increase. But Smith said that didn’t appear to be an immediate threat, and Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke said the 2016 budget is set with no layoffs.

“We do not like to finance any cost-of-living adjustment by laying people off,” Mielke said. “Our first priority is job stability. We try to do that first.”

Mielke described the 2016 budget as also maintaining the status quo. The bulk of the county’s money continues to be spent on criminal justice. Of the $156 million that will be spent as part of the county’s operating budget this year, $115 million - or 74 percent - will go toward public safety, including paying the salaries of sheriff’s deputies, jail guards, prosecutors and judges, among other accounts.

Employees in other sectors negotiated for an increase that didn’t put the county in an economic bind, Mielke said. He applauded them for that.

“We recognize that uniformed employees are treated better under Washington state law than other employees,” Mielke said. “That’s something we don’t have a lot of control over.”

Spokane County received about $2 million more in sales taxes this year than last, beating expectations, Mielke said. But the county is expected to pay more into the retirement accounts of public employees and health care costs continue to increase, negating those gains, he said.

“I would say it’s not enough,” Mielke said.

Commissioners voted to take the 1-percent property tax increase authorized under state law.

Expenses across most departments will see a slight increase this year. The budget at Spokane County Jail eclipsed $30 million, from last year’s $28.1 million.

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