Commissioners eye pay raise

January 13, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

In the next few weeks, the Washington County Commissioners may again tackle the politically thorny issue of a pay raise.

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The last time the commissioners voted to approve a salary increase, they changed their minds following a public outcry.

That was in early 1994, after a citizens committee recommended the County Commissioners receive the first pay increase since 1990. The committee suggested the commissioners' salary be raised from $20,000 to $24,000.

Before deciding this year whether a raise is warranted, three of the five commissioners say another issue needs to be resolved first: Are the commissioners' jobs part time or full time?

A telephone poll of the commissioners found that none is willing to state unequivocally that they support a raise. However, the four new commissioners said they were surprised by the hours and time they have put into the job since taking office in December.


After serving for five weeks and putting in many hours, Commissioner John L. Schnebly said the commissioners deserve a higher salary, but added he's not sure if he wants to try to justify an increase to citizens.

"Politically I know it is a sensitive subject," Schnebly said. "Is it one we want to go to war over?"

At the Jan. 5 meeting, the County Commissioners asked Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis to explore whether the pay of some citizen board members, such as members of the Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning Commission, is appropriate. As part of that work, the commissioners wanted him to determine whether the County Commissioners' salaries should be higher.

An increase would have to be approved by General Assembly and would not take effect until the next commissioners' term, which begins in December 2002.

Davis said Tuesday he is still gathering information on their request, but will take the issue before the commissioners in the next few weeks.

The commissioners might consider doing what the County Commissioners did in 1993: Create a citizens committee to explore the salary issue.

On Dec. 21, 1993, Michael Hardy, chairman of the committee, presented to the commissioners the committee recommendations on the salaries of the county sheriff and the commissioners. The committee recommended the commissioners be paid $24,000 and the commissioners' president $25,000.

Later that day, the commissioners unanimously adopted the recommendations with one change: Increasing the salary incrementally, $1,000 more a year during the four-year term, with the president receiving $500 more than the other four commissioners.

The commissioners later voted to rescind the pay raise.

Commissioners' President Gregory I. Snook and former Commissioners John S. Shank and Ronald L. Bowers, said Monday they remember receiving phone calls from people who opposed the salary increase.

"A public outcry was the leading factor that led us not to do it," Bowers said.

Bowers said he does not think citizens want the commissioners position to be a full-time job. He opposes a salary increase.

Snook said he wants to hear from the public before taking a position on a pay raise.

If citizens want the commissioner jobs to be part time, then the salary is appropriate, he said. It deserves review, however, if they want them to be full-time jobs, he said.

"I need time to study it," Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said.

"It is more of a full-time job than it is a part-time job, but it was originally designed as a part-time job," Swartz said.

He noted that the commissioners this week are starting to meet twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, whereas the body usually only meets on Tuesdays.

However, it is never a good idea politically for elected officials to vote for a raise, he said.

"It is certainly something worth looking at," Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said. As the county grows, the issues are becoming more sophisticated and the commissioners spend more time making decisions, he said.

Iseminger and Swartz said that future potential County Commissioners candidates probably will look at salary before deciding whether to run for office.

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