Island County elected officials’ raises back on chopping block
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
June 23, 2010 · Updated 1:19 PM
The confusion over salary increases for elected officials in Island County continues. It turns out that county commissioners still have time to thwart an automatic 5 percent salary increase that kicks in at the start of 2011.
Budget Director Elaine Marlow announced at the county commissioner meeting Monday that the commissioners actually have until the day before the Nov. 2 general election to change the county code and prevent the automatic pay raise from taking effect.
Marlow had previously said county commissioners missed the deadline for changing the code because she thought, under state law, that it had to be done before candidate filing week. But she said the chief civil prosecuting attorney returned from vacation last week, researched the issue and discovered there is still plenty of time to make the change.
Former commissioners adopted the measure in August 1994 that set salaries and gives county commissioners and seven other county officials a 5-percent pay raise each odd-numbered year. Current commissioners have suggested revoking the automatic increases in light of the county’s ongoing budget crisis.
In fact, Marlow said the commissioners could lower the salaries below their current levels if they so choose. But such a move would be complicated, according to Prosecutor Greg Banks, because they couldn’t change the salary of the two mid-term commissioners.
Vinnie O’Connor, a staff representative for the county’s largest union, said the impending salary increases for elected officials has been an issue in ongoing negotiations. He said the prospect of raises creates discomfort in the workforce, which has dealt with layoffs, furloughs and freezes in pay.
“The time is not right for raises for anyone right now,” O’Connor said.
Commissioners John Dean and Helen Price Johnson both indicated they are in favor of changing the county code. Commissioner Angie Homola was absent Monday, but previously spoke in favor of the change.
The commissioners asked Marlow to send an e-mail to alert all the other elected officials about the potential cancellation of their raises. They also decided to discuss the issue at the next roundtable meeting with elected officials to gather input and get ideas.
Price Johnson said she had gathered information about how other counties handle salary increases for elected officials, which she will share at the meeting.
Dean said he wouldn’t be in favor of setting up a salary commission, which is an independent board that decides salaries. He pointed out that salary commissions could conceivable increase salaries by a great margin if they depend an analysis of salaries in other counties.
“I’m not sure a salary commission would do what we want them to do, which is to cut salaries,” Dean said.
The salaries of the elected officials, excluding the judges, are based on a percentage of the commissioners pay. The prosecuting attorney receives 135 percent of a commissioners 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 commissioners salary. The commissioners make $78,496 a year.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.