County’s vote for pay increase draws fire

t SK’s Jan Angel the lone dissenting vote.

The Kitsap County commissioners’ approval of a salary increase for elected officials and employees not represented by a union came under fire after the ordinance was passed on Monday night, with charges of irresponsibility for taking such an action in the face of economic difficulties.

“Right now, anyone who has a job is grateful to have one,” said Vivian Henderson of Port Orchard during the meeting’s public comment period. “With all the cuts that the county is making, this is not the time to be giving people raises.”

The commissioners voted 2-1 to pass a resolution to increase the salaries 2 percent, an action that includes their own compensation. The individual commissioners will not see a raise during their current terms.

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel voted against the resolution, instead advocating a salary freeze for all positions.

Supporters of the action say the measure is not strictly a raise, but is an update of a previous resolution that granted the same employees a 4 percent pay hike.

So the new resolution will immediately save about $600,000, according to Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown.

“We realize we need to slow the growth rate of the cost of government,” Brown said. “We have cut the previous increases by 50 percent, and this represents a significant savings.”

During the meeting, Brown repeated the mantra that has guided the county for more than a year, saying, “We need to tighten our belts, and live within our means.”

But there is a competing message: To attract top-notch people to government, workers must be paid a salary commensurate with their abilities.

And even if the salaries of the executive branch seems high to the average taxpayer, they could earn more in the private sector.

With this in mind, Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer is arguably worth the $112,777.60 he is receiving in 2008 and a 2 percent hike for 2009, the commissioners contend.

“I want to know that the people we have are the very best,” Brown said. “If I have a loved one who is the victim of a crime, I want to know that the sheriff arrives quickly and does whatever it takes to catch the perpetrator.”

The pay equation is complicated by an uneven playing field. Employees who belong to a union are on a predetermined salary schedule negotiated by the county and the union leaders.

As per these agreements, the county cannot renegotiate salary levels until the current contract has expired.

At the same time, county officials think it is unfair for employees who are not represented by the union to earn less than union members in the same office.

The last contracts for many of the unions were negotiated in 2006, prior to the current economic downturn.

While acknowledging that the people who negotiated these contracts could not predict the current conditions, Brown said the next contract negotiations will follow a more austere path.

“When we negotiated these contracts the county was in better shape,” he said. “In the future, we will need to develop a more sustainable government.

“The increases in our expenditures need to be in line with the revenue we are receiving.”

While salary cuts are considered, they are part of an abstract discussion.

A union worker cannot be paid less — or more — money without a renegotiated contract.

One cost-saving possibility that is gaining traction is the idea of a four-day work week, which would maintain the same hourly pay for fewer hours each week.

These savings are hard to determine, especially when it concerns salaried employees that draw the same pay regardless of hours worked.

“We are looking at a lot of options,” Brown said. “But we can’t make unilateral changes.”

Currently, the commissioners are conducting budget meetings with all department heads, with the necessity to cut about $3 million more out of the 2009 budget.

The preliminary budget document is due Nov. 19, with a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 1.

While talk of raises and cuts can be confusing, the commissioners received immediate support from some of the meeting’s attendees.

“It took a lot of guts for you to do this,” said Jim Sommerhauser of Central Kitsap. “We have several key professionals that we can’t afford to lose.

“People who are here need to be compensated for the work they do, otherwise the quality goes down. Dissatisfied people will give you a lousy work product.”

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