Car stipend an unfair perk

In a Monday article by The Herald’s Noah Haglund, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, who doesn’t claim a $569-per-month car stipend for elected county officials, said he won’t criticize those who do. So we will, as we did in 2009, the last time this issue made headlines.

Haglund reported that the Snohomish County Council last week voted to expand the number of officials who can receive the stipend by one — for Deputy Executive Mark Ericks, who is not elected. Ericks said the intent was to include other well-traveled top managers besides himself. Ericks said he would return to the council seeking an amendment to grant the stipend to other department directors and top administrators.

The intent may be one thing, but the message is another: Those at the top receive perks that those who are not at the top do not.

Non-elected county employees are eligible for mile-by-mile reimbursement based on federal rates, which is 56.5¢ per mile. The council also voted to raise the amount of the allowance to $569.32 in 2014 from the 2013 monthly rate of $547.65. (That’s sure a lot of driving and wear and tear!)

The rate adjustments occur every year. They’re based on a formula designed to gauge the cost of owning and operating a standard car from the county motor pool, Haglund reported. Any official who claims the full rate for 2014 would get more than $6,800, on top of his or her salary. (Roe is following former prosecutor Janice Ellis’ lead in not accepting the stipend. Clerk Sonya Kraski also has not claimed the stipend.) Most eligible county officials have taken the maximum reimbursement so far in 2013. Of course, they could use a county vehicle for county business, but then they wouldn’t get the stipend.

Again, for those who take the full stipend, that’s $6,800 on top of salaries between $100,000 and $149,000.

“It’s cheaper for us in the long run to pay a vehicle allowance than to pay the staff time for all the reimbursements that come in,” Ericks told Haglund. “That was the theory behind it.”

Well, if it’s really cheaper, shouldn’t the stipend be extended to all county employees, not just elected officials and “top managers”?

At the prosecutor’s office: “Everybody who works for me, just like everybody who works at Boeing or Wal-Mart or Dick’s, has to pay their own car expenses,” Roe said.

Which is how it works in the real world. Giving perks to elected officials that don’t exist in a regular business sets a bad precedent. And like the car stipend, once it’s in place, it never goes away, it just grows larger.

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