County’s elected officials to receive 15 percent raise

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

After three tries, Roosevelt County commissioners finally passed a 15-percent pay raise for elected county officials Thursday and approved their $8.7 million interim 2006-07 budget.

Commissioners convened briefly in a budget public hearing, in which no one spoke out, before taking up the interim budget. On Monday commissioners heard requests from department heads and instructed County Administrator Charlene Hardin to plug in changes to the budget, agreed upon during that meeting, and to prepare a spreadsheet with various percentage increases for elected officials’ salaries to be discussed.

During discussion, Commissioner Paul Grider asked how much cost-of-living increases were calculated for the county employees. Hardin said that while she didn’t have an exact figure, the increases in health insurance alone under the county’s plan were running about 3 percent per year.

County Clerk Janet Collins stressed that with just a 12-percent increase, by the time the health insurance goes up over an elected official’s term, it translates to no increase in take-home pay.

“Some of our staff is able to move ahead of us (in pay) with their regular increases,” Collins said. “You get all the responsibility and less pay.”

After further discussion, Commissioner Tom Clark made a motion to increase elected officials’ salaries in the budget to the state-allowed maximums.

“I think the ones who are here everyday (clerk, assessor, treasurer, sheriff) deserve it,” Clark said. “I don’t think commissioners deserve it, but the others do.”

Commissioners fell silent on Clark’s motion, and it died without second.

Commissioner Gene Creighton then proposed passing the budget with a 12-percent pay increase for elected officials. That motion received a second, but with Commissioner David Sanders absent, the vote deadlocked at 2-2, with Creighton and Grider in favor and Clark and Commission Chairman Dennis Lopez opposed.

Lopez then moved for a 15-percent salary increase for elected officials be plugged into the budget, and commissioners passed it 3-1, with Clark as the dissenter.

The budget resolution adopted allows for a 5-percent increase for most county employees. It also leaves money for a request from the sheriff’s department to switch its employees to a 20-year retirement plan in place. That plan would have to be adopted separately at a later time, according to Hardin.

The total budget expenditures in the 2006-07 interim budget are $8.7 million. That compares to $6.5 million projected in the 2005-06 budget.

The county must have the interim budget to the state for review by June 1. After it comes back, the final budget is due by July 31.