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Island County eyes routine pay raises

Years of financial uncertainty in Island County government may finally be coming to an end.

One of the first orders of business may be a pay raise.

A cost of living increase for the county’s approximately 420 year-round employees was one of the few priorities to receive majority support from the Island County Board of Commissioners during its first budget planning meeting of the year.

“It’s become a critical issue for our organization and certainly a significant morale issue,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.

Beginning in 2008, the economy began to sour and once healthy revenue flows slowed to a trickle. The board answered by chopping millions from the general fund, and according to Price Johnson, by cutting 100 positions.

The lean times lasted longer than expected, she said, and employee salaries have been frozen since 2008.

The county has “stabilized” its revenues, however, and the budget is no longer in “free fall,” she said.

“Now, it’s time to get back to our staff and let them know that we are in a place where we can reinstate a COLA and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to do that this year,” Price Johnson said.

Other priorities for the commissioners include the preservation of public safety, justice and health services. Price Johnson also wants to improve and streamline internal processes and take steps to strengthen economic recovery.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said her primary focus is law and justice funding, but that support has limits.

“I don’t want to be a county that just offers a sheriff’s office,” she said.

She said she too favors giving county employees a cost of living increase, listing it as one of her top priorities. She also wants county departments to be open to the public five days a week.

The reduction in staff resulted in many departments falling behind, so the board decided to close county offices to the public on Fridays.

Board Chairwoman Kelly Emerson expressed concern about constituents, and that “I personally know people who have or will move off the island if taxes continue to rise.”

Emerson’s goal is to “make do with what we have.”

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