Board recommends elected official raises

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The Lincoln County Compensation Board has recommended a 20 percent increase to the salaries of the county’s elected officials. The recommendation must be ratified by the Lincoln County Commissioners.

The board members present voted unanimously for the raise. District Clerk of Courts Tricia Brooks was not present.

The current uniform base elected official annual salary for Lincoln County in financial year 2019 is $46,768.63. A 20 percent increase would raise that to $56,122.36 in financial year 2020.

The board is comprised of commissioners Mark Peck, Jerry Bennett and Josh Letcher, County Attorney Marcia Boris, Clerk and Recorder Robin Benson, District Clerk of Courts Tricia Brooks, Sheriff Darren Short, and one resident from each of the county’s three districts: John Righter of Troy, Robin Swimley of Libby and Mandi Truman of Eureka.

Under Montana law, the base salaries for the treasurer, clerk and recorder, clerk of the district court, assessor, sheriff and county superintendent of schools have to be the same.

There are also allowances for different elected officials to receive additional amounts up to $2,000, with varying qualifications, and at the discretion of the county commissioners.

The sheriff is mandated by law to receive an annual 1 percent increase for longevity.

The compensation board is mandated to set the salaries for the county’s elected officials. County employees who are not elected have their salaries set by the county commissioners.

During the board meeting Wednesday, the subject of giving other county employees a cost of living raise this year was raised in general discussion.

However, Lincoln County Administrator Darren Coldwell said by email that the commissioners have not yet discussed county employee compensation.

In advocating for the increase, Coldwell noted that Lincoln County has the tenth largest population in the state. Yet, the compensation for elected officials in Lincoln County is on the low end in the state for full time positions.

Dallas Bowe, county human resources director, provided the board with a survey showing the salaries of county elected officials from across the state.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Lincoln County for 2017 was $35,179, compared to the median income statewide, of $50,801.

The current salary for county officials is approximately 133 percent of the 2017 median income for the county.

The median income in Lewis and Clark County for 2017 was $60,789, and the base salary for elected officials there is $73,106.

The salary in Lewis and Clark was approximately 120 percent of the median income.

Coldwell pointed out that cuts have placed the county in a position where it is again able to set money aside, rather than spending reserves to just keep functioning. But, in order to do that, county officials have assumed additional duties.

Coldwell also assured the board that a raise for elected officials would not cause the budget to outstrip revenue.

Another concern raised during the board meeting was whether low pay would discourage the most qualified candidates from running, especially for specialized positions such as sheriff.

Short acknowledged that he made about the same amount of money as a sergeant in the Libby Police Department as he does now as the county sheriff, in part because the sheriff receives little or no overtime compensation outside of special circumstances.

As of Monday evening, elected official salaries had not been added as an agenda item for the commissioners’ Wednesday meeting.

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