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County officials consider policy for pay for themselves

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | September 21, 2023 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County elected officials will examine when and how their pay is calculated.

The move comes after commissioners approved the county’s $141 million budget for fiscal year 2024, which included a raise for elected officials that puts their wages at 97% of Canyon County’s FY 2023 elected official wages.

Canyon County is the second-most-populated in Idaho, with about 231,000 residents as of 2021. Kootenai County is third, with about 171,000 residents.

Before voting to approve the budget in August, Commissioner Bruce Mattare called for creating a policy that addresses pay for elected officials. Many Idaho counties don’t have a formal policy in place, he said, which means Kootenai County has relatively few examples to study.

“There is little rhyme or reason that I’ve been able to identify when you look at the different counties and how they establish their pay,” Mattare said Wednesday during the monthly elected officials meeting.

The county expects to institute cost of living adjustments for employees every two to three years, which Mattare said could be a complicating factor.

“If we’re doing that every two or three years, how does that affect elected officials in between the elections?” he said. “It’s like squeezing a balloon. You do something over here, it changes something on this end.”

Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Stan Mortensen said he believes elected officials should always earn more money than their staff because experienced employees who may be interested in running for office may not do so if getting elected would mean taking a pay cut.

“If the employees are getting raises every year and we’re not increasing elected raises, you’re going to have some employees eclipsing what the electeds make, and I don’t think that’s the situation we should be in,” he said.

To that end, Mortensen said pay for elected officials should be assessed as frequently as county employee pay.

“I don’t think elected officials should make more than some of their employees,” Commissioner Leslie Duncan said. “Some of their employees require degrees and all kinds of experience. I don’t think commissioners should make more than our IT guy. That would break the bank.”

Commissioner Bill Brooks suggested that any policy addressing when and how the pay of elected officials is increased should also contemplate the circumstances under which their pay should decrease. Pay raises for elected officials should not be automatic, he said.

“You have to take accountability from the voters quickly,” he said. “Explaining that we met the first, second, third and fourth criteria, therefore here are raises people should get is not going to fly. It wouldn’t fly with me.”

Raises for elected officials have not followed a consistent pattern in Kootenai County. For example, county commissioners had the same wage from 2010 through 2012, saw a raise in 2013 and then continued to receive the same pay through 2020.

Elected official salaries for fiscal year 2024 are as follows:

• Prosecutor $159,182

• Assessor $108,888

• Clerk $114,878

• Commissioner $108,992

• Coroner $97,468

• Treasurer $110,136

• Sheriff $145,516

Mattare is expected to take the lead on the policy project and present more data to the other elected officials at a future meeting.

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Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Stanley Mortensen

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Bill Brooks

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Duncan