Island County elected officials’ salary hikes endangered

Island County commissioners are looking into ways to prevent elected officials, including themselves, from receiving salary increases in 2011.

Under county code, the elected county officials, excluding the judges, receive a 5 percent pay increase each odd-numbered year. But such hefty raises would be difficult to justify in the midst of ongoing budget problems.

County officials have dealt with $5.2 million in budget shortfalls over the last year and a half. So far, much of the budget cutting has come on the backs of county employees. The commissioners cut 55 positions, clipped staff hours, instituted furloughs and switched many employees to a less expensive medical plan.

“The commissioners are concerned about the negative impact on employee morale caused by a 5 percent raise for elected officials in 2011,” Budget Director Elaine Marlow wrote in an email to elected officials, announcing the commissioners’ intention to consider the issue.

During a meeting last week, Marlow asked the commissioners if they still wanted to look into elected officials’ salaries and raises; they agreed they did. The topic was first brought up during last year’s grueling budget sessions and scheduled to be addressed in budget discussions this year.

The commissioners said they were interested in the issue, but questioned what could be done since salaries and raises are set by county code.

Marlow explained that the commissioners could simply change the county code. There are many different ways that the county can set the salaries for elected officials, including a salary commission. She said she would research the options and report back to the commissioners.

The salaries of the elected officials are currently based on a percentage of the commissioners’ pay. The prosecuting attorney receives 135 percent of a commissioner’s salary and the sheriff earns 110 percent. The rest of the elected officials — the auditor, assessor, treasurer, clerk and coroner — receive 90 percent of a commissioner’s salary.

The commissioners currently make $78,496 a year.

The county’s budget problems aren’t over. Marlow projected that shortfalls will continue for the next five years, even with no cost-of-living adjustments for employees. She estimated an $800,000 deficit in the 2011 budget.

To be fair, the elected officials have felt some impacts from budget cuts. The change in health insurance affected all non-union employees, including the elected officials. The commissioners volunteered to forego their $750-a-month travel allowance, which is comparable to a 10 percent salary cut. Sheriff Mark Brown volunteered to take a 5 percent salary cut this year. Other officials have absorbed travel and other costs.

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