Opinion

Editorial: Island County officials should hand over raises

The Island County commissioners and their budget director missed an opportunity to cut about $40,000 from next year’s budget when they overlooked a deadline to change a county code. The code in question gives the commissioners and seven other elected officials a 5 percent pay increase in 2011 and all other odd-numbered years. The commissioner had planned on deleting the raises, but nobody realized until it was too late that it had to be done before candidate filing week.

Budget Director Elaine Marlow took the blame for the oversight, but she correctly pointed out that elected officials could simply donate their raises back to the county. In fact, the 10 elected officials, as well as the candidates for those offices, should all sign a statement promising to do just that. Such a document would help the commissioners plan next year’s budget and it would help voters decide who to cast their ballots for this fall. The elected officials or candidates who want to keep their 5 percent pay hike can explain why to the voters.

The automatic 5 percent pay increase for elected officials in a time of catastrophic budget shortfalls is a PR nightmare for commissioners who are asking voters to approve a property tax levy rate increase on the primary ballot. It also could affect negotiations with the unions. After all, much of the $4.2 million in cuts over the last two years was on the backs of county staff. The county officials laid off 50 people, instituted furloughs, cut hours and froze cost-of-living increases.

At the same time, the commissioners will each make $78,496 this year. The prosecutor receives 135 percent of a commissioner’s salary, the sheriff gets 110 percent and the others, the auditor, assessor, treasurer, clerk and coroner, receive 90 percent. Such large salaries makes it less likely that voters will want to funnel more of their money to the county. A large salary increase for elected officials may doom any chance that the levy rate hike will pass.

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