Friday, September 7, 2012

County passes $26.7 million budget

Commissionersí vote split 2-1 in favor

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County commissioners set the fiscal 2013 county budget at $26.7 million on Tuesday, despite a dissenting vote on the subject of commissioner raises.

Commissioner Tom Bowman said on Tuesday during the public budget hearing that he would be voting against the budget solely on the basis of the more than $6,000 raise granted to each county commissioner.

A citizens committee, made up of 10 residents of Blaine County—some business owners, some from the general public—came before the commissioners on Aug. 20 to provide recommendations for fair salaries for all elected officials. 

The formation of the committee was recommended by the county commissioners, but the committee itself formed its recommendations without any input from the commissioners or other elected officials.

A committee report stated that county commissioners in Blaine County do make, on average, slightly less than their counterparts both within the state and in other resort counties, such as Summit, Colo.; Gunnison, Colo.; Teton, Wyo.; and Summit, Utah. But the committee recommended that the commissioners hold off on raising their salaries until the economy improves.

Commissioners Angenie McCleary and Larry Schoen voted for a $6,087.61 raise despite that recommendation, saying the committee did not consider factors such as internal equity and cost of living when making its recommendation.

Schoen justified his decision during Tuesday’s budget hearing, saying he appreciated the committee’s work but disagreed with its findings.

“The committee’s work, while good, lacked several important features we needed to make a decision,” he said.

He added that since he and McCleary voted to raise commissioner salaries, he has been contacted by a local contractor who said that, thanks to the increase, the contractor is seriously considering running for Bowman’s seat.

“The change in compensation induced him to go ahead and pursue the position,” Schoen said.

The budget also includes a potential 2.5 percent raise for county employees, a 1 percent market rate adjustment and a potential 1.5 percent merit-based raise. No other elected officials—clerk, prosecuting attorney, coroner, treasurer or sheriff—will receive increases from the county this year.

County Clerk JoLynn Drage said this is the first final budget during her tenure that was actually lower than the tentative budget set last month, which was $26.8 million. This reduction was due in part to the fact that only $18,262 of a budgeted $106,000 for raises will actually be spent in 2013, as raises for elected officials other than the commissioners were planned for, but eventually voted down.

The sole dissenting vote on the budget came from Bowman, who said he opposed the raises.

“My position on commissioner salary raises has not changed,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake.”

He said he supported the rest of the budget.

Kate Wutz:

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