Salary Commission: No raises for some Whatcom elected officials

The commission setting the salaries of elected officials in Whatcom County government tentatively decided on Wednesday, April 1, to give no cost-of-living raises in 2016.

The sheriff and council members would get raises based on their workloads, members of the Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials said. The salaries of the executive, assessor, auditor and treasurer would remain unchanged in 2016.

“Out of everybody in this book, the guy who works the most is the sheriff,” said commissioner Thom Fischer, referring to the binder commissioners bring with them to meetings.

As for council members, “I’d triple their salary,” Fischer said. “Those guys are making policy for us.”

As it turned out, neither the council nor the sheriff got anything near triple their pay under the commission’s proposal. Members voted to increase the sheriff’s pay almost 2.3 percent in 2016, to $132,000. The part-time council’s salary would go up more than 21 percent, to $30,000.

The current salary commission is continuing a trend begun by the first-ever commission, which met in 2013. The previous group gave council members a 15 percent raise and the sheriff a 5.7 percent raise for 2014.

The sheriff’s salary needed to be raised again, commissioners said Wednesday, because he runs the jail in addition to the Sheriff’s Office, and his job is particularly dangerous.

The council’s salary should be increased to attract the right people, Fischer said. With a current salary of $24,705, the only people who can be expected to run for the part-time position are retirees, wealthy people or “people who think $24,000 is a lot of money,” Fischer said. “Do you want them making policy for the next 100 years?”

If commissioners approve the proposed council members’ pay increase, their salary will go from $21,000 to $30,000 in three years.

The 2.3 percent cost-of-living raises given to most county elected officials in 2014 and 2015 turned out to be above the actual inflation rate. Giving no cost-of-living adjustment in 2016 would correct for that, commissioners said.

“They’ve gotten cost-of-living increases. Many of us working folks haven’t,” commissioner Kristi Birkeland said.

All elected officials except the county prosecutor would get a 2.2 percent cost-of-living raise in 2017.

The prosecutor’s salary has been tied to that of Superior Court judges in the state. The state salary commission isn’t expected to set pay scales until May 13. The Whatcom prosecutor currently makes the same as Superior Court judges: $156,363.

All votes on Wednesday were unanimous among the six commissioners present: Birkeland, Fischer, Mike Arbiter, Allan Jensen, Brian Lydiard and George Plucinski. Commissioners Robert Carmichael, Peter Schroeder and Kara Turner were absent. The commission originally had 10 members, but Jesse Berg left the group after moving out of the county district he represented.

The commission may cast its final votes at its next meeting, 4 p.m. on April 16 in the Whatcom Transportation Authority board room, 4111 Bakerview Spur. The final salary decisions will require six “yes” votes.

The public can show up at the meeting to comment on the salary proposals or send an email before the meeting to WTA Human Resources Director Andy Rowlson at andyr@ridewta.com. WTA is running salary commission meetings for the county.

More information is at whatcomcounty.us/576/Salary-Commission.