Blaine County commissioners decided on Tuesday to include elected officials in the pay scale that is used to determine the salaries of other county employees.
County Clerk JoLynn Drage said that she requested commissioners review the salary structure for all elected officials when she realized that there was the potential for several employees, namely chief sheriff’s deputies, to eventually be paid more than the elected officials who are supervising them.
“There is a potential in the very near future to be making more than the elected official in that department, which doesn’t seem quite right to me,” she said.
Drage said her concern lies mostly in the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, where Chief Deputy Ed Fuller currently makes only $600 less per year than Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey. Drage said Fuller’s salary could surpass Ramsey’s in two years.
“My hope was that in looking at that and looking at the salary levels, the board would consider evaluating the elected officials based on the same criteria with which they evaluate any employee,” she said.
Drage said part of the problem is that elected officials are not subject to the same merit and cost-of-living raises that county employees are, and salaries of elected officials do not increase with more time spent on the job.
County Administrator Derek Voss—who is a contract employee and not subject to the county’s salary structure—said the county’s salary structure is based on 16 different factors, including working conditions, level of education and responsibility for budget and financial decisions.
“I think we have a very good system and there are a few things that I think need further improvements,” said Commissioner Angenie McCleary.
Part of the discussion on Tuesday centered on which elected officials should be included in the salary structure. Drage presented three options: one in which no elected officials are included, one in which all but the commissioners are included, and one in which all elected officials, including the commissioners, would have salaries based on all factors apart from years of experience on the job.
McCleary and commissioners Jacob Greenberg and Larry Schoen made it clear that no budget decisions were being debated. The discussion, they said, was a matter of policy regarding how to evaluate elected officials’ salaries in the future.
Schoen said he could not support including the county commissioners in the salary schedule.
“I just can’t support that,” he said. “I do believe strongly that the commissioners’ work is as valuable as any other employee of the county. I value this type of analysis, but I am not sure I want to incorporate the commissioners on the [structure] as a form of policy.”
Schoen said he believes that decisions about commissioner salaries are more politicized than the salaries of other elected officials. However, Greenberg said he feels that adding commissioners to the salary structure would help depoliticize commissioner salaries. The salary structure, he said, would help justify and objectify future salary discussions.
“It’s totally political if it’s not part of this system,” he said. “Then you are going to be making a decision that you are definitely going to be out there taking potshots for.”
Final salary decisions will be made during budget hearings later this spring.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org