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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County commissioners get 19 percent raise, now make $110,000

FILE – Spokane County Commissioner Al French, right, converses with commission candidate Nancy McLaughlin on Feb. 22, 2016. At left, county attorney Jim Emacio meets with Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

An independent panel of citizens has given the Spokane County commissioners a 19 percent raise, bringing their annual salaries to $110,693.

The commissioners previously made $93,000 per year and had gone without a raise since 2006. Other elected officials such as the county auditor and treasurer now make $105,158, or 95 percent of the commissioners’ salary.

“I want to be really clear: These raises did not require an action by the county commissioners,” said Dolores Humiston, chairwoman of the 10-member Citizens’ Commission on Salaries.

Humiston, who’s also the vice president for human resources at Whitworth University, is one of four members appointed by the county commissioners. Six members were randomly selected from voter rolls, while Humiston and others were chosen to represent four industries: organized labor, personnel management, legal services and business.

The citizens commission was formed in 2001 to set salaries for elected officials “in a way that’s both independent and nonpolitical,” said Tim Hansen, the county’s human resources director.

The group has the final say on the salaries of Spokane County’s elected officials. It’s supposed to convene every two years, but until last month, county commissioners hadn’t approved a meeting since 2006 because the recession squeezed county resources and there was no money for potential salary increases, Hansen said.

Humiston said it had been “a long time” since the commissioners’ salaries were reviewed or raised. She also said it’s important to attract qualified candidates with commensurate pay. The commissioners get health insurance and a retirement plan, but no sick or vacation time.

Humiston said the citizens commission looked at five counties – Benton, Kitsap, Thurston, Pierce and Clark – with comparable budgets, population and numbers of employees. The Spokane County commissioners’ salaries are roughly an average of the commissioner salaries in those other counties, she said.

The citizens commission also held separate interviews with the three county commissioners, Republicans Al French, Shelly O’Quinn and Josh Kerns. Humiston said those meetings were open to the public and notices had been sent out, but no private citizens attended.

“Our only involvement with the commission was answering their questions,” French said through a spokesman.

Attempts to reach the commissioners by phone Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The commissioners now make more than twice as much as Spokane City Council members, who also got big raises this year.

As of Jan. 1, council members make $45,100 per year – a 44 percent increase over last year’s $31,200 salary. Council President Ben Stuckart makes $58,630.

Those raises were approved last year by the city’s five-member Salary Review Commission.

“It’s not us giving ourselves raises,” City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said.

Vicky Dalton, who’s been the elected county auditor since 1999, said she wasn’t expecting or hoping for a raise, since most Spokane County employees are paid less than their counterparts in other counties.

Spokane County workers also bring home smaller paychecks than city employees.

“I would definitely like to have all of my employees paid market value for their work,” Dalton said.