Citing the need to keep pay adequate to encourage capable people to run for office, Walla Walla County commissioners approved a pay raise next year for all county elected officials except themselves.
Commissioners voted to increase salaries by 6 percent in 2014 for the county assessor, auditor, clerk, coroner, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer. Commissioners froze their salaries through the end of 2016.
Commissioners Perry Dozier, Jim Johnson and Greg Tompkins said they will revisit the topic next year to decide if the elected officials’ salaries should again be frozen due to the state of the economy.
Monday’s action was a continuation of a discussion started last year that ended in October when commissioners voted not to increase salaries for elected officials who do not fix their own compensation. Pay levels were frozen at the 2012 level, but the resolution called for commissioners to review the pay scales in 2013.
Commissioners noted that under the current salary schedules for appointed department heads, some county employees are “bumping up” against the salaries earned by the elected officials who are their supervisors.
“As an elected official, if I could make more money running a department, I wouldn’t run for office,” Tompkins said.
Johnson agreed: “I think it’s important to have salaries that can attract the best and the brightest” people to serve in elected positions.
The current elected county officials affected by the pay raises are Assessor Debra Antes, Auditor Karen Martin, Clerk Kathy Martin, Coroner Richard Greenwood, Prosecuting Attorney James Nagle, Sheriff John Turner and Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner.
The annual salaries for assessor, auditor, clerk and treasurer will each increase by $4,131.06 in 2014. The coroner’s annual salary will go up $3,304.86 and the sheriff’s salary will increase by $5,497.56 annually. The county’s share of the prosecuting attorney’s salary will increase by $2,987.04.
Commissioners did not take action on their own salaries because state law requires the board to fix its salaries before the election of any commissioner seat. In Walla Walla County, commissioners have traditionally had to set their pay up to two years in advance in order to avoid having a disparity in pay between board members.
As for county workers, two of the four unions representing employees have approved new contracts. The contract with union representing the county Public Works Department’s road crew was approved in late 2011 and the contract with courthouse employees was approved in late March.
The road crew contract calls for union employees to receive a 2.16 percent increase in 2013, based on a scheduled increase equal to 80 percent of the Consumer Price Index for the Seattle-Bremerton area for June 2012.
The contract with courthouse employees had a similar pay increase, which was retroactive to the start of this year, according to Lucy Schwallie, county personnel and risk management manager.
In late December, commissioners also approved a pay raise for department heads and other non-union employees of 2.16 percent, also based on the Consumer Price Index for Seattle-Bremerton.
The remaining two unions, which have not agreed on new contracts, are those representing sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers. Contract negotiations with the deputy’s association are in mediation and negotiations with the corrections officers have not started, Schwallie said.