Whatcom County's first Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials met some of its subjects face to face at its meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27. Next it will hear from the public, on the way to setting the 2014-15 salaries for all county elected offices by May 1.
Three county officials spoke at Wednesday's meeting - Assessor Keith Willnauer, Auditor Debbie Adelstein and Treasurer Steve Oliver. Two others, Sheriff Bill Elfo and Executive Jack Louws, sent written comments. No one from the County Council submitted comments.
Those officeholders who did comment didn't stray far from a straightforward and thorough description of their duties. Almost all made a point of telling commissioners how many employees they supervise, from the 12 under the treasurer to the sheriff's staff of 204.
Willnauer, who has been assessor for 25 years, explicitly said he didn't want to say anything that would be "self-gratuitous."
"I do not have any particular wish to sway you in any way from doing what I know you will do, which is a very good job," Willnauer said.
Commissioners tried to move through the thicket of considerations that come with setting salaries. Should officials be compared to those of similar counties elsewhere in the state, to elected officials in Bellingham, or to the staff that works for them?
The salaries of county elected officials rose by more than 18 percent from 2007 to 2010. By that year, the assessor, auditor and treasurer were making $96,648 a year. The executive and the prosecutor were both above $145,000 annually.
Council members earn a part-time salary of $21,500 in 2013.
Salaries have been frozen for all full-time elected officials and hired department heads since 2011. There's reason to think 2014 might be the year for a thaw.
Nonunion county employees are expected to receive a 3.8 percent raise effective March 31, according to a Feb. 4 letter from Louws to top county officials. If that happens, some who are No. 2 in a department will make more than their elected boss.
The Salary Commission will give the public a chance to comment at a hearing scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 13. The meeting will be held in the Whatcom Transportation Authority boardroom at 4111 Bakerview Spur, Bellingham.
Commissioners said they likely won't tolerate personal attacks on sitting officials.
"If you don't like how high your taxes were, this isn't a time to take a shot at the assessor," said Bob Carmichael, a lawyer on the commission. "We're here to set the salaries of elected officials, and that's all."
Information on the Salary Commission, including meeting agendas and current salaries of elected officials, is at co.whatcom.wa.us/boards/sc/meetings.jsp.
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2298.