Island County salary study reveals pay disparities

A new salary study by Island County’s human resource director shows that employees in professional positions like attorneys and engineers are generally underpaid.

In addition, it found disparities between employees performing the same functions in different departments.

In some cases, certain staff members are being paid above average.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said Friday the board hopes to fix some of the disparities but the changes may not be immediate. She said the unions have only just received the study and some salary fixes will be negotiated.

“We only have a certain amount of budget capacity,” she said.

The commissioners chose to do their budget this year in December so they have time to respond to an expert’s recommendations about changes that need to be made at the jail in the wake of an inmate’s death from dehydration.

Human Resources Director Melanie Bacon relied on four sources of data to find the “market price” of the jobs.

The sources are PayScale, a leading resource for compensation data; an Association of Washington Counties 2015 survey; Mason County’s 2014 survey of court positions; and information collected directly from similar counties.

Bacon created a spreadsheet that includes the current hourly midpoint salary for each position, the hourly midpoint from PayScale and the hourly midpoint from comparable counties.

An hourly midpoint is the middle of the salary range.

Bacon recommends changes in salaries in some cases, but the commissioners haven’t taken any action yet. The study doesn’t take into account benefits.

The data shows that salaries in the prosecutor’s office, for example, are below average. A deputy prosecutor II position, which is an attorney with some level of experience, has a midpoint salary of $32.88 an hour. The midpoint salary in comparable counties is $38.52.

That’s a difference of nearly $12,000 a year.

In addition, both the chief criminal prosecuting attorney and the chief civil prosecuting attorney make between $3 and $4 less an hour than their colleagues in other counties.

The senior paralegal salary midpoint is $19.22 an hour while the PayScale midpoint is $25.03.

Prosecutor Greg Banks said he’s not surprised by the results.

“I’m encouraged that the county has conducted an objective study that validates what I’ve been saying for 17 years. Knowledge, experience and judgment is our stock in trade,” he said. “The county and the voters lose when skilled people leave for more money after we have invested time and training in their professional development.”

In Public Works, a construction engineer and a surface water engineer earn $33.39 at the salary midpoint. According to PayScale, the average midpoint is $38.77 an hour.

The human resources director makes $36.99 an hour, while the average in comparable counties is $41.69 an hour.

On the other hand, some employees are making more than their colleagues in other counties.

The study shows that a series of positions in the human services department earn more than the averages provided by PayScale. The housing program coordinator, housing resources coordinator and human services coordinator each have a salary midpoint of $24.15 an hour. PayScale states the average midpoint is $21.82.

The substance abuse prevention coordinator also has a salary midpoint of $24.15 an hour while the average wage through PayScale is $18.86.

In the sheriff’s office, the study found that the undersheriff is comparably underpaid and the chief civil deputy is overpaid.

Commissioner Johnson said the county isn’t going to cut any pay based on the study but some wages may be frozen, which she admits might cause some consternation.

She said one of her main concerns is that some departments pay different rates for essentially the same positions.

“We need to right size,” she said, “because a job’s a job.”