New Benton commissioner returns salary bump

KENNEWICK — One of Shon Small's first acts as a newly elected Benton County commissioner is to write a personal check to his employer for $2,301.

Small, who unseated Max Benitz Jr. in the Nov. 2 election, promised he wouldn't accept a 3.5 percent pay increase the commissioners are scheduled to get this year.

He plans to deliver on that promise this morning by handing over a check equal to that annual pay increase to county Treasurer Duane Davidson.

The commissioners' annual salary for 2011 is $98,106, which includes the 3.5 percent raise.

"I am a man of my word. I'm following up on my campaign promise, and I want to set an example," Small said.

He decided to write the check today because the county issues paychecks on or before the 5th day of each month, and this will be his first payday in 2011 as a county commissioner.

Small, a Prosser resident who retired as a county sheriff's deputy to become a full-time commissioner, said the amount he is giving back isn't much, but he would like it to go toward greater needs, such as boosting funding for the juvenile justice system or consolidated crisis response center.

Small said at least 23 juvenile inmates have been released "out the back door" at the juvenile justice center because of budget constraints affecting staffing levels.

"He's just fulfilling a campaign promise," said Commissioner Leo Bowman.

Bowman said he had not had time to consider whether he also would refund his raise.

Commissioner Jim Beaver was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Davidson said this is the first time he has heard of an elected official giving money back in Benton County.

"The first thing I did when (Small) called to say he would be coming in was to contact the prosecuting attorney," said Davidson, who wanted to know if there could be any legal problems involved.

"Nobody's done this before, so it kind of surprised me," he added.

Small's check will be received as miscellaneous income, which Davidson said is where found money is deposited.

Commissioners voted six months ago to place a two-year freeze on elected officials' salaries beginning in 2013. But there would be annual 3.5 percent pay increases until then, as allowed under a 2007 decision of the board.

Accordingly, the commissioners' salary of $94,788 in 2010 went to $98,106 this year, and will have another 3.5 percent bump in 2012 to $101,539.

Small said he will see how county finances look for 2012 before deciding if he also will forego that pay increase.

Small is not the first official in the state to decline a raise. Yakima County's three commissioners last year also wrote personal checks to return their scheduled pay raises to the county's general fund.

"As I recall, it was about two grand," said Commissioner Rand Elliott.

This year, the Yakima County commissioners are not collecting a pay raise, and the county auditor has arranged to have the scheduled raise diverted to the county till.

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com