Friday, July 20, 2012

‘Not looking for a raise’

Commissioners say increase is fair, not required


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioners Larry Schoen, Tom Bowman and Angenie McCleary have planned for a $21,000 raise in the county’s preliminary budget for 2013. Though the number would make them the second-highest-paid commissioners in the state, the commissioners argue it’s justified. Express file photos

Over the next month, a citizen committee will sort through an Idaho statute, a 26-page chapter of the Idaho Association of Counties handbook, a 38-page elected officials salary survey, a five-page Microsoft Word document and a series of worksheets from Blaine County Human Resources in an attempt to determine a fair wage for Blaine County elected officials.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday to set aside $90,000 in county funds to increase salaries of the coroner, county clerk, sheriff and the three county commissioners.

The board made it clear that the planned amount was simply a high-end cap, though one number stood out—the potential $21,532 increase for each county commissioner, boosting their wages to $76,699 per year.

Commissioners and county staff say the increase is fair based on the position's responsibilities—even if the current commissioners aren't the ones to get the increase.

County Administrator Derek Voss said the number he presented before the board last week—an increase of $34,713, bringing commissioner salaries to $90,147—was based on an Idaho Association of Counties salary survey for 2012, and a county performance evaluation worksheet.

The worksheet evaluates factors such as knowledge required, responsibility, customer service level and responsibility for finances.

"This is the tool we use to set the salaries for every employee except for elected officials and except for my position," Voss said. "It's a common compensation analysis tool used in many other organizations—not just government."

Jessica Donald, spokeswoman for Ada County, said her county uses similar factors to arrive at the salaries of elected officials.

"Positions held by elected officials often mirror similar jobs found in the private sector," she said. "Commissioners set elected officials salaries based on the overall scope of work."

Ada County commissioners are paid $95,524 per year, have not received a raise since 2008, and oversee the activities of 1,625 employees.

Voss said that the Blaine County commissioners are more hands-on than other commissioners.

"Statutorily, county commissioners are the same throughout the state," he said. "But Blaine County is unique. What's different in this county situation is that county elected officials do the work, or they are more in the management than oversight."

Commissioner Angenie McCleary said most of her office hours are taken up with setting meeting agendas, preparing for commissioner meetings and engaging with the public but the responsibilities go far beyond that.

"The number of things we work on is so vast," she said. "I want to do eight things in a day, and I end up working in two of those things and then 10 other things that weren't there when I started."

In addition to county hours, McCleary said she attends meetings for the 19 boards she sits on in her role as county commissioner—many of which, such as the Blaine County Regional Leadership Council and the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority—hold meetings at night.

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"There are certainly nights I have stayed at the office until 11 p.m., but I am more likely to go home and do meeting prep there," she said.

Commissioners Larry Schoen and Tom Bowman said their obligations tend to be more far-flung. For example, Schoen said that on Thursday, he was meeting with state wildlife officials to discuss the potential for radio collaring wolves in Blaine County as part of his role as liaison to the Wood River Wolf Project.

"That is way beyond the scope of my job as county commissioner," he said, adding that he is under no obligation to help make the Wood River Wolf Project a leader in state and even national wolf conservation, as it has become.

Bowman was also working on conservation Wednesday, drafting comments to the BLM on its proposed sage grouse planning strategy, which could threaten a planned network of trails out Croy Canyon near Hailey.

He'd also been answering the phones all day, he said, covering for the commissioners' assistant.

"We are an extension of the staff," he said. "The argument is made that we have the most responsibility in the county."

While their daily schedules may be different, the commissioners all agreed that the current salary is on the low end of livable. Bowman said the successful sale of a business in 2001 allows him to be able to work as a commissioner and put his two daughters through private colleges.

Schoen said that while he "wasn't looking for a raise" this year, he is only able to work as a commissioner because of outside income.

"If I didn't have that other income, I would not be doing this job," he said. "It's really that simple."

McCleary said she considers the salary "livable," but not necessarily fair.

"I never expected to have a high-paying salary," said McCleary, whose background is in social work. "I have always felt that I wanted to be paid fairly. If you were looking to do this similar work in a similar [private] setting, you would likely be compensated higher."

And a private setting would enable her to benefit from a good economy, she said, while public salaries stay in a narrower range.

Still, the commissioners said they were not necessarily looking for raises this year—a raise for the position as a whole would be enough, partly to incentivize more competition for elected positions.

"If this job pays so well, why did Larry run unopposed?" Bowman asked. "There are certainly no special qualifications necessary."

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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