by KATHERINE WUTZ
Blaine County commissioners approved a $26.8 million tentative budget Tuesday that included raises for county employees and a $106,000 pool from which raises for county elected officials can be drawn. A final budget will be set in September.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary said during a public budget hearing that while the money is allocated in the tentative budget, that doesn't mean the full amount would be spent.
"The tentative budget is the tentative budget," she said. "It can be reduced when setting the final budget."
Based on data from the Idaho Association of Counties 2012 Salary Survey and salary analysis done by County Administrator Derek Voss, Voss and County Human Resources Generalist Susan Potucek stated earlier this month that a fair market salary for the position of county commissioner would run roughly $90,000.
Though the commissioners said they would not support an increase of that level, they did plan for an increase of $21,532, which—if approved before the final budget is set—would bring salaries for the commissioners to $76,966 each.
Commissioner Tom Bowman said he could not support either the pool for raising elected officials' salaries or the planned raises for county employees. While he said that he felt the increases for employees were warranted, he added that the timing was not right.
"I think our employees deserve this kind of recognition, but I don't think the public is ready for it," he said.
Bowman added that he felt the raises for elected officials was included in the tentative budget numbers to ensure that the public was aware of the fact that the commissioners were considering an adjustment—a mission that has since been accomplished, he added.
"The public is well aware of it," he said. "Someone actually wanted me to buy them a beverage at Redfish Lake Lodge on Sunday with my new raise."
Bowman voted against the tentative budget, but was overruled by McCleary and Commissioner Larry Schoen. Both said they would like to see the recommendations of a nine-person citizen committee being formed by Potucek for the purpose of recommending suitable increases.
Potucek said she has lined up six potential members, and is still seeking three members of the general public to serve on the committee.
Schoen said he believed that much of the public outcry was due to the lack of raises in many parts of the private sector, which is still struggling.
"Who wouldn't like to say, 'Sir or Madame boss, you're going to pay me what I think I'm worth, not what you can afford to pay me,'?" he said. "Naturally when it comes time for county commissioners to set their own salaries, there is resentment and even envy. That's natural."
Still, Schoen argued, the public should focus on how much more efficient and professional county government has become, and the savings anticipated from the commissioners' attempts to remove the Blaine Manor subsidy—an estimated $700,000 annually—from the county budget.
McCleary said that the county has become more efficient in removing unnecessary positions and cutting costs while boosting the level of customer service and transparency.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com
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