Friday, August 10, 2007

Commissioners give raises to staff, themselves

Express Staff Writer

Sarah Michael

Following a heated discussion, the Blaine County Commission decided to forgo pay raises for itself while voting for 3 percent raises for other elected officials and county employees.

The topic of salary increases for elected officials in Blaine County provoked a lengthy discussion among members of the commission, county staff and county citizens during a meeting at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey Thursday.

Specifically discussed during the meeting was the July 3 approval by Commissioners Tom Bowman and Larry Schoen of salary increases for elected officials in the county, as well as for county employees. Both commissioners voted to approve the salary increases despite the absence of fellow Commissioner Sarah Michael, who at the time was away on vacation.

In comments Thursday, Michael expressed dismay that the vote was taken without her being present. Michael said she had requested the commission wait to vote on the salary increases until she returned from vacation.

"I had asked to be part of that," she said.

Most troubling to Michael was apparently the size and retroactive aspects of the salary increases for elected officials. In all, Bowman and Schoen voted to raise the salaries for seven Blaine County elected officials by a combined total of $76,721 and to make those raises retroactive to January 2007 for newly elected officials and to Oct. 1, 2006, for incumbent officials.

The July 3 salary increases included raises for about 50 county employees and the county commissioners, whose pay increased from $41,422 per year to $52,754 per year.

The July salary increases were based on a recommendation by Boise-based BDPA Inc., a human resources management consulting company the county hired in 2006 to conduct an in-depth salary analysis for county elected officials and employees. The firm was asked to compare Blaine County salaries with those in other Idaho counties as well as in several resort communities nationwide.

The results of the study showed Blaine County salaries for elected officials and many county employees to be below the average for comparable communities. For those employees determined to be at or above the average salary for their respective jobs, no salary increase was given, Commissioner Tom Bowman said by phone Thursday.

However, for all employees as well as county elected officials the survey recommended a 3 percent salary market adjustment for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2007.

During the meeting Thursday, commissioners voted for the 3 percent salary increase for county employees and some county elected officials, but chose to forego giving themselves a raise.

Bowman said the funds that would have been given to the commissioners with the 3 percent increase, which totals $4,745, will instead be diverted to a line item in the county's 2007-2008 budget that provides funds to the Blaine County Senior Connection.

Most people who spoke Thursday appeared to believe that county officials and employees are underpaid.

Not paying adequate salaries could lead to higher employee turnover and a lack of qualified people interested in running for elected office, Wood River Valley attorney and former Blaine County Commissioner Barry Luboviski said.

"What you're doing now really makes sense," he said.

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