Flathead County Commissioners Approve Employee Pay Raise

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday morning to increase the salaries for the county’s elected officials and employees by almost 2 percent.

Commissioners Dale Lauman and Jim Dupont approved a 1.9 percent cost-of-living raise for all county employees for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The move follows the recommendation of the county’s compensation board, which suggests the base salary for elected officials. The commission sets salary levels for the county’s remaining employees itself.

Lauman said that when the compensation board first began considering elected official’s salaries this year, he didn’t think he could support any suggested increases. But when the board reduced the cost-of-living raise from nearly 4 percent – the actual COLA increase in Flathead County – to the more modest 1.9 percent, he got on board.

“I think that’s reasonable and I think the county’s employees deserve it,” he said.

Dupont agreed, noting that he thinks the county has done a good job of remaining fiscally responsible in the face of economic downturn and, in turn, its employees deserved the pay boost.

Commissioner Joe Brenneman cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that the raise wasn’t appropriate given the double-digit unemployment rate in the county. With once-large employers like Columbia Falls Aluminum Company and Plum Creek cutting staff, he said the county should give the nearly $500,000 that the raise would require “back to residents to pay their bills.”

“This is a year to say we recognize the people we work for are struggling,” he said.

Last year, the commissioners approved a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees and an additional 1.2 percent raise, as well as a significant boost in employees’ dental program benefits, which are funded by a separate property-tax levy. But with revenue from growth declining significantly, they also trimmed department budgets and put a freeze on new hires in hopes of preventing layoffs this year.

In the case of elected county officials, their new salaries with the 1.9 increase are as follows: clerk of district court, $60,235; county treasurer/assessor, $62,235; justice of the peace, department 1, $77,487; justice of the peace, department 2, $72,511; clerk/recorder/surveyor, $62,235; county commissioners, $62,235; sheriff/coroner, $81,077; superintendent of schools, $60,635; and county attorney, $95,879.

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