Island County elected officials are getting a raise, but it appears some of them believe the commissioner-approved 2 percent increases are a “slap in the face.”
The pay hike, which is effective Jan. 1 for those starting new terms, is the first raise such officials have received since 2009.
County Auditor Sheilah Crider asked the commissioners prior to the vote to simply give elected officials the same increases experienced by other county staff and department heads. Non-represented county staff were awarded 2 percent wage increases in Sept. 2013, Jan. 1, 2014 and Jan. 1, 2015.
“We’re asking to be respected in the same manner,” Crider said.
Sheriff Mark Brown said that while he is grateful that he has run unopposed the last two elections, he fears the reason is because the county doesn’t pay enough.
“In terms of attracting future candidates for this office, compensation is a factor,” Brown said.
Agreeing with the sheriff, Commissioner Aubrey Vaughan said its a disservice to all of Island County when civil servants aren’t paid what they’re worth.
“All these positions require a high degree of skill and to get those people, you have to pay them well,” Vaughan said. Still, Vaughan conceded later in the meeting that it was a tough budget process and no one got everything they wanted.
County Prosecutor Greg Banks said that his argument against the low pay increase is not so much about the money, but about what it says about the county.
“My concern about the 2 percent, intentional or not, is that it sends a message that elected officials are not worthy or worth less,” Banks said, adding that in speaking with the other officials there was “a real sense that it was a slap in the face.”
The other commissioners responded to the comments with indignation.
“We met individually and as a group over the last six months and not once did this come up,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said. “Instead it becomes part of the public hearing. We have an obligation to work together. I find it very unfortunate that you see this as a statement on the worthiness of public officials.”
The 2015 raises for the affected officials total just over $11,000, amounting to between $1,000 and $1,500 extra annually depending on each 2009 rate which ranges from $70,648 to $86,346. The prosecutor’s 2009 pay was about $106,000, but only half of that — $52,985 — comes from county coffers. The other half is covered by the state.
Commissioner Jill Johnson said that the commissioners’ priority is first to the constituents, second to county staff and elected officials last. Johnson said the board stretched the budget as far as they could and agreed that the request should have come to them earlier.
“Respectfully, that ship has sailed for 2015,” Johnson said. “I don’t disagree that the elected officials are long overdue for a salary increase. But it’s a choice to be in this occupation and it’s a privilege.”
County Assessor Mary Engle, who attended the meeting but didn’t address the board, said later Monday she agreed with the other elected officials that she was kind of “taken aback” by the commissioners terse response to their comments. Engle said she has been discussing the pay raise with the commissioners personally since April,
“It just surprised me,” Engle said. “What (Banks) said was respectful and he did not say it in an attacking manner.”