Jefferson County commissioners pause on plans for 14.9 percent pay raises

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners Monday deferred the approval of a staggered salary increase for board members after all three said they expected to approve the measure.

“I wanted to have a little more time to discuss this,” said Commissioner Phil Johnson.

“I wanted to see how other counties do this, so we don't have a discrepancy between the commissioners' salaries.”

The measure, which Johnson and fellow commissioners David Sullivan and John Austin all said last week they would approve, would raise the annual salaries for their positions from $63,926 to $74,459, a 14.9 percent increase.

The staggered increases would take effect after the next elections for specific positions: in January 2015 for the District 3 seat now held by Austin and in January 2017 for District 1, now represented by Johnson, and the District 2 seat, now filled by Sullivan.

Johnson said Monday he favored delaying the decision until the March 17 commissioners meeting and Sullivan agreed, while Austin voted in favor of passing the measure as it was presented.

Johnson, who said Friday he intended to support the measure, said he thought about it over the weekend and called the Municipal Research and Service Department on Monday morning to explore the alternatives.

One option, he said, would be to approve the salary increase this year and have it all take effect in January 2017, so all three make the same salary.

The commissioners' salary has not changed since 2008.

Other elected officials have received increases that are determined each year by the board.

The assessor, auditor, clerk and treasurer are all earning $71,980 this year, while the sheriff receives $85,015.

Commissioners cannot vote to increase their own salaries, so all changes are deferred until the next election.

County Administrator Philip Morley said he would research how other counties deal with commissioner raises and present them at the next scheduled meeting at 9 a.m. March 17 in chambers, 1825 Jefferson St.

One option is to develop a periodic yearly increase for the board so they don't fall behind other officials, Morley said, or to tie commissioners' salary to a percentage of the judges' pay, which is set by the state.

“We are going to get a clear reading as to what our options are and get a legal read about what's possible,” Morley said.

All three commissioners feel that the hike in salary is justified.

“It will also encourage younger people to run,” Austin said of the proposed increase.

“A lot of people look at the current salary and say, 'I can make a lot more than that working somewhere else,'” Austin said.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 10. 2014 11:44PM
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