RAISES APPROVED FOR COUNTY'S ELECTED OFFICIALS

April 28, 2001 12:00 am
Don Buffington (left) and Scott McKenzie of the Elected Officials Compensation Board discuss the county's budget. ().
Don Buffington (left) and Scott McKenzie of the Elected Officials Compensation Board discuss the county's budget. ().

GOLD BEACH A $2,500 a year raise for county commissioners, and $2,000 for most other elected officials, was approved Thursday by the Curry County Budget Committee before it approved the entire fiscal 2001-02 budget.

Commissioners Marlyn Schafer and Lucie La Bont voted for the increases, totalling approximately $18,000, along with committee lay members Don Buffington, Scott McKenzie and Harold Whitson.

Commissioner Cheryl Thorp voted against the raises, but she has resigned, effective July 1, and would not have benefitted from the raise, which takes affect that same day.

The commissioners and most elected officials have not received a salary increase since fiscal year 1995-96.

The decision will hike the commissioners salaries from $37,500 a year to $40,000. Most other elected officials will go from $37,500 to $39,500.

Two salaries will not be affected. The district attorney is paid by the state. The state also mandates the sheriffs salary at $1 more than his highest paid employee.

The Elected Officials Compensation Board, made up of the three lay members of the budget committee, met just before the budget hearing Thursday morning.

They first voted unanimously to reject Schafers proposal to have the county pay the elected officials portion to the state retirement system. That would have amounted to a 6 percent raise for each elected official.

The board voted instead to recommend $2,500 for each commissioner and $2,000 each for other elected officials.

That will increase the commissioners salaries by 6.66 percent and the other elected officials by 5.33 percent.

Schafer included a 2.9 percent raise in the budget for department heads, and union and non-union employees.

While department heads had received salary increases totaling 6.7 percent during the past five fiscal years, salaries decreased 10.3 percent for most elected officials and 19.8 percent for the commissioners.

Schafer and La Bont have said several times since being elected that they knew what the salary was when they ran and werent seeking an increase.

Both said Thursday, however, that they thought the other elected officials deserved a raise. La Bont said later that she liked the retirement payment idea better because all officials would have received an equal raise.

The compensation board did not give that choice. Buffington said the retirement contribution would work better for permanent employees than for elected officials. He also said there would be no control over future retirement increases.

McKenzie felt the elected officials do a lot of work and are relatively poorly paid for it.

He said the board was offering a package recommendation: either all elected officials, including the commissioners, would get the raise, or none.

A lot of elected officials need a raise, and want one, he said.

Thorp said, I knew what the salary was when I ran. She said if other elected officials didnt like the compensation, they should not run for the office.

Its a poor county, said Thorp.

She said she might consider raises, when we get out of the financial woods. We need to get through this year.

She said the Public Health Department budget had been cut, along with new computers for the commissioners. She also said the county needed a new phone system.

Schafer said the health department actually got $40,000 more than last year, but not the $100,000 more requested.

Im having a real hard time with it, said La Bont of the raises. I dont like to penalize the other elected officials. She later said she did what was right for them.

She also said she brings grant money into the county, $44,000 so far this year. She said she brought in millions while working for the ports.

I am a professional grant writer, she said.

La Bont said she would consider donating her raise, or a portion of it, to some needed county project.

She said later that if she brought enough grant money into the county for projects, like the completion of the emergency operations center, she might consider that shed solved the problem and keep the raise.

Schafer said she would consider donating her raise, but she also felt everyone deserved some kind of cost of living increase.

Buffington said, We feel the increase is due. He said the board did not want the other elected officials paid more than the commissioners.

We appreciate were putting you in a difficult position, to vote on your own salaries, said McKenzie, but we think its very defendable. Its gonna take some courage to vote for it.

After approving the raises, the committee then had to figure out where the money would come from.

Schafer had already included $15,750 for the 6 percent retirement contribution in the balanced budget. The raises approved totaled about $18,000 because of workmans compensation and other factors.

Schafer said the difference could be taken out of a budget line item she included for the countys new phone system.

She set aside $30,000 for new phone equipment, but reduced that to $27,000 to cover the raises.

With the salary issue settled, La Bont asked to include three items in the budget that she hopes to get grants for.

Those projects include $40,000 for a county master plan update, $80,000 for an automated weather aviation system, and $270,000 for the county emergency warning system.

Schafer said the grants could be added in later because they wouldnt require a supplemental budget.

Thorp then proposed once again to drop the countys membership in the Association of O&C Counties.

We cant afford two lobbying groups, said Thorp of the $6,000 a year the county pays in dues. It also pays dues to the Association of Oregon Counties.

Schafer would not support Thorps motion. She said the new federal safety net payments will last only six years. She said as much lobbying as possible is needed to make those payments permanent.

Without the lobbying we wouldnt be where we are today, said La Bont. The county received an additional $967,900 in federal payments for fiscal year 2001-02.

La Bont said that legislation was in jeopardy a few times before it was passed. She said she contacted the office of Sen. Ron Wyden and learned the bill has a good chance of being reauthorized, depending on who is in Congress and how they are lobbied.

Whitson, who had seconded Thorps motion, asked if the Association of O&C Counties would stop lobbying if Curry County dropped out.

Thorp said no, that Benton County dropped out and the lobbying went forward. She said Curry would continue to benefit from the federal payments whether or not it participated in lobbying.

La Bont said no one could be sure of the impact if counties started dropping out.

It takes money to make money, she said. She called the idea of dropping out a foolish thing.

When it came to a vote, only Thorp and Whitson voted to pull out of the association. The motion failed 4-2.

Thorp also proposed to cut the commissioners travel fund and put the money into new computers for the commissioners office.

The commissioners computers are so slow they are hardly functional, she said.

Rather than travel, said Thorp, the commissioners could do business by phone, e-mail and fax.

La Bont preferred to keep her old computer and continue to travel.

If you go and are in their face, you can get more money, she said. We are all being very conservative with our travel budget.

She said she must board her dog every time she travels, and often pays for her own meals and gas.

She said she spent $300 of her own funds on the trip to Washington.

Schafer said Thorps replacement would need to travel more at first to get out and meet people.

In the end, $1,500 was taken out of the commissioners $9,000 travel fund to pay for a new computer for the new commissioner.

Money was found in the Computer Services fund to replace Schafers malfunctioning computer.

The budget committee then voted unanimously to accept the budget in its entirety, instead of department by department, as had been done in the past.

The commissioners did a great job on the budget, said Buffington. He said the lay members didnt have to come in and fight day after day to lower individual line items.

Schafer commended the department heads for working on those line items to bring the budget into balance.

She also expressed her appreciation for the work done by the lay members, and invited them to participate in quarterly budget reviews.

Still unknown is the effect union negotiations and legislative decisions will have on the budget.

Consultant Dick Hill, who is helping the county prepare a long-range financial plan, told the commissioners that the county had avoided a nuclear blast when it received the extra federal funds.

He said two-thirds of the countys revenue comes from O&C funds. If that takes a hit, he said, County government wont be recognizable.

Lots of needs havent been addressed during the past decade, he said. They will come home to roost.

He warned that the countys financial situation will be really dicey after the federal safety net expires in 2007.