By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — While most Snohomish County government workers saw pay stagnate or decrease because of last year’s budget cuts, elected officials’ pay rose by pre-determined amounts that county leaders had little ability to control.
Deciding how much money the county’s dozen elected officials should earn falls to a citizen-run salary commission that meets every two years.
This year, some officials are making an unusual plea: Don’t raise our salaries.
This comes as a looming $3.6 million budget shortfall is causing far more anxiety among many elected officials than their take-home pay. Some want all county leaders, including top union officials, involved in finding solutions.
“They can do whatever they want with my salary, but please let’s work together to fix this gigantic hole that is the direct result of the bad economy,” said Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, who spoke to the salary commission last week. “I’m more worried about avoiding massive layoffs.”
Pay for Snohomish County’s dozen elected officials ranges from a low this year of about $99,000 for the clerk and the treasurer, to a high of about $149,000 for the prosecuting attorney. Council members earn nearly $103,000, similar to their Pierce County counterparts, but lower than the nearly $128,000 King County council members receive.
In 2009, elected officials received a nearly 5.9 percent cost-of-living raise, while 11 furlough days ate up most of a similar increase for other employees. There was no cost-of-living increase for anybody this year.
The 10 appointed salary commissioners have received direct feedback from several officials since they began meeting last month.
“Please do not recommend any salary increases for the council or other elected officials,” Councilman Dave Somers wrote. “Should you recommend salary decreases, please make them equitable for all involved.”
Similarly, County Executive Aaron Reardon asked that “any change in the salary paid to elected officials be commensurate with any changes in the level of pay for Snohomish County’s front-line employees.”
Six commission members are selected by lot from registered voters, while the other four have backgrounds in business, law, organized labor and personnel management.
The commission’s chairman is Don Shove, who works as a program coordinator for Boeing’s union machinists.
“Everybody is taking their position on the commission very serious, and they’re trying to represent everyone from the everyday worker to the executive’s office,” Shove said. “There’s a real concern of everybody being treated fairly.”
The County Council passed a 2010 budget that assumed all workers would take five furlough days. That’s means a roughly 2 percent cut in pay. So far, no organized labor group has agreed to take the furlough days, although they are mandatory for employees without union representation.
Because they can’t adjust their own salaries, councilmen recently lowered vehicle compensation for elected officials by an amount equal to 1.9 percent of their salaries. The amount of compensation varies by official, but is between $200 and $300 per month after the latest change. Roe and Clerk Sonya Kraski are among the elected leaders who have chosen not to claim the allowance at all.
The commission’s decision on salaries is expected after a public hearing on April 14. On the same day, the County Council is planning a hearing on painful budget issues.
The latest estimates show the county’s general-fund revenues down about $3.6 million. County leaders also worry about declining cash reserves the county needs for payroll and other expenses. Council members hope to add $2.9 million to the fund balance. That would bring reserves above 5 percent of the $202.7 million general-fund budget, although finance officials say ideally they should be much higher.
To address those problems, the County Council is likely to ask all departments to cut nearly 2.6 percent from their budgets — on top of 1.9 percent cut they face absent a furlough agreement.
“This should, barring some new developments, get us through 2010,” Gossett said. “We have a major budget problem in 2011.”
The union that represents about two-thirds of the county’s 2,700-strong work force disagrees with the council’s approach of leaving most budget-trimming decisions to department leaders.
“The council seems to always punt to the individual department heads and other elected officials. They leave it to them to do the dirty work,” said Chris Dugovich, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Council 2. “There needs to be some kind of comprehensive way to deal with this.”
Councilman Brian Sullivan said he could understand the union’s frustration, but noted that it’s hard for the council, as the legislative body, to make those kinds of management decisions.
“Department heads and the electeds who run departments have come to the council and other councils in the past and said, ‘You don’t know how this department is run,’ ” Sullivan said.
Sullivan and Dugovich agreed with Roe and others that the unions should be involved in discussions about potential budget cuts.
Roe said his employees and the public ultimately have the same interests.
“There seems to be an us- versus-them mentality, but there’s no them. There’s just us,” he said. “We’re all facing the exact same challenges and salary reductions and layoffs and uncertainty as any other citizen in Snohomish County.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Snohomish County Council has scheduled a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. April 14 on budget cuts to manage a revenue shortfall. Location: eighth floor, county administration building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.
At 7 p.m. the same day, the salary commission plans a hearing on elected officials’ salaries in 2011 and 2012. That hearing is in the sixth-floor executive board room at the same address.