Raising a sticky issue

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COEUR d'ALENE - At least two Kootenai County elected officials could get raises this fiscal year, under a resolution the commissioners will consider at their business meeting today.

Under Idaho code, the commissioners must set the nine elected officials' salaries each year, including their own.

The new fiscal year budget allows raises for all of the more than 700 county employees, including voted-in officials.

Yet under today's proposed resolution, only two of the county's nine officials, the treasurer and assessor, are requesting to receive a 2.47 percent raise.

The other seven officials, commissioners included, are recommending to keep their salaries flat.

"The commissioners, we decided we're not taking a raise this year, because of the economic times," said Commissioner Todd Tondee, who like the other commissioners earns $71,080 a year.

The commissioners had recently requested each elected official submit recommendations for their salary adjustments, using the wage adjustment pool adopted for fiscal year 2013.

Assessor Mike McDowell recommended his salary raise from $68,958 a year to $70,665. Treasurer Tom Malzahn, who has the same salary, requested the same increase.

On Monday, both officials justified their requests with a county study commission several years ago, recommending that electeds' salary adjustments be in step with those of overall county staff.

County elected officials haven't received raises since October 2007, McDowell pointed out.

"This is just a modest change," said McDowell, assessor for just under a decade. "Something that's keeping at least somewhat at pace with what the market has done."

Malzahn said that officials deserve the raises after such a long dry spell, especially since the raises were budgeted.

"It makes no sense to have the electeds held back, when pay should keep up with the marketplace," said Malzahn, also in office just under 10 years.

The 2013 fiscal year budget provided a wage adjustment for all the roughly 769 county employees, which included the county absorbing $363,541 in increased health insurance costs.

The budget allotted $1 million for department heads to give out as one-time bonuses or raises.

Commissioner Dan Green said he would prefer the elected officials ask the voters for a raise, not the commissioners.

"But that's not the way it is in statute," Green said.

He couldn't predict whether the raises would be approved today at the commissioners meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. in the county administration building, at 451 Government Way.

But Green said the commissioners shouldn't receive a raise because they're public servants.

"Last year I made a motion to reduce our pay by 3 percent, but it did not move forward," Green said.

Commissioner Tondee said he was still "struggling" over whether to approve the requested raises.

"I know everybody works very hard. I don't think it's about deserving or not," Tondee said.

Under the resolution, the other officials' salaries would remain the same:

• Clerk: $68,958

• Sheriff: $84,872

• Prosecuting attorney: $98,664

• Coroner: $61,535

• Three commissioners: $71,080 each

Clerk Cliff Hayes, still serving his first term, said his performance so far hasn't warranted a raise.

"I'm still learning, and I don't think I need or deserve a raise at this time," Hayes said. "It may be different for the assessor and treasurer, because they both have longevity in their positions."

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