GOLD BEACH – The Curry County Board of Commissioners on Thursday rejected a proposal to freeze current county elected officials’ salaries or slash their benefits for the fiscal year beginning July 1 because state law won’t allow it.
Instead, commissioners voted to keep the current pay schedule and the current benefits level.
The commissioners contended that the Elected Officials Compensation Board, in making the proposal to freeze salaries and cut benefits, mistakenly thought state law would allowed such action.
The compensation board, made up of three lay members of the County Budget Committee, recommended that elected officials pay half of the $1,049 that the county now pays toward their health insurance and that they pay the 6 percent of their salary toward PERS, their pension fund, the county now pays.
The county for at least the past 10 years has paid its portion of PERS, which varies according to the needs of the state retirement fund, and has also paid the 6 percent of salary that is assessed to individual employees.
“Could it be fairly said the compensation committee did not correctly follow the statutes?” Commission Chair David Itzen asked County Counsel Jerry Herbage.
“I think they tried but did not follow” the requirements, Herbage said.
Herbage said the state statutes give a list of what the board should consider, including similar pay by other government workers and private employers for similar jobs. The board also considered the economy and the county’s fiscal condition in making their recommendations.
“We received (the recommendation), but did not accept it,” Itzen said of the 3-0 vote by which the commissioners received the recommendation. “I would be inclined not to accept it myself.”
“I don’t agree with how Jerry is reading that,” said compensation board member Sam Scaffo of Port Orford. “It says ‘will take into consideration.’ It never says not to consider any other factors.”
Herbage said that when the statutes say “take into consideration” the board should consider only similar things “such factors as how many employees they supervise and related factors.”
Itzen said he regretted not addressing the board before they began their work. “What I see is you moving far from what you were charged. My view is, you went quite a bit further than what the statutes asks you to do.”
John Spicer of Gold Beach, another member of the board, said they had looked at all the things that the statutes required, including comparison with other counties where counties were alike.
But he said that $1,000 a month for health insurance is something not offered to him, his employees or the general public.
“Out of 36 counties, most of them do pick up benefits similar to ours,” Commissioner George Rhodes said. “It would be difficult for me to vote as you suggest. I’m leaving office. It will have minimal impact on me.”
Rhodes and Commissioner Bill Waddle were not among the top two finishers in their elections on Tuesday and will not appear on the November General Election ballot.
Rhodes suggested that next year, the compensation board be picked outside lay members of the budget committee, who have traditionally been appointed in Curry County.
“What you’re concerned with is balancing the budget and you’re looking at a way to cut costs,” Rhodes said.
He said most county employees are under union contract, so their benefits can’t be cut so easily.
“I believe if citizens would like to see the campaign address benefits, it should be a campaign issue,” he said. “I’m not inclined to impose this on the next board nor elected officials.”
Waddle said that Curry County has elected officials who are actively managing departments.
“If we were to do as you suggest, they would be making substantially less than some of their top employees in their departments,” he said, causing severe morale and management problems.
The three commissioners now receive a monthly salary of $5,064.08 or an annual salary of $60,769, the sheriff $5,772 a month or annual salary of $69,264, the assessor $4,780.50 or $57,366 annually, the clerk $4,731.08 monthly or $56,773 annually and the County Treasurer $4,687.33 or $56,248 annually. In addition, they receive $1,045 a month toward health insurance. Commissioners’ PERS now paid by the county is $303.04. The sheriff has PERS of $346 paid, assessor $286, clerk $284 and treasurer $281.
The county surveyor now works part-time at $45 an hour. He doesn’t work enough hours to receive health benefits.