Commissioners wise to delay lifting salary freeze for county elected officials

The economic recovery is simply too fragile to commit to pay raises now. If the economy improves the commissioners should consider boosting pay.


Walla Walla County commissioners made a solid decision last week in continuing the freeze on elected official salaries.

The economy in the Valley is simply too unpredictable to grant significant raises for elected officials at this time.

However, commissioners left the door ajar so the issue could be revisited next year. This, too, is a smart move.

It was also a prudent political consideration for commissioners to make it clear they would not raise their salaries before 2016. By law, commissioners cannot accept a raise in pay until they stand for election. So if commissioners at some point raise the pay for themselves it could not take effect until after the 2016 election.

The pinch of the Great Recession still stings in this Valley just like the rest of America.

Specifically, the salaries of many employees have been frozen for three or more years. It's happening to folks who work for government and in the private sector.

When the nation's economy went in the tank, employers saw a major decline in revenue in the private sector and tax collections in the public sector. To avoid layoffs or reduce the number of layoffs, salaries were frozen and, in some cases, benefits were reduced.

Yet, the costs of goods and services continue to go up.

It's made it tougher to make ends meet. It's frustrating.

So it's reasonable for Walla Walla County's elected officials to want a pay raise after having their salaries frozen. They put in long hours and have a lot of responsibility. They -- like all county employees -- should be fairly compensated for their work.

Last week the three Walla Walla County commissioners considered and rejected a recommendation to lift the pay freeze that now extends through 2014 from elected county officials such as auditor and treasurer pay and increase the salaries 7 percent in 2015 and 3.5 percent in 2016. The recommendation was essentially based on future pay raises for unionized county employees.

Commissioners should be commended for continuing to take a conservative approach to budgeting.

Yes, keeping the pay freeze on for elected officials is mostly symbolic, but it is relevant because county employees have been asked to sacrifice economically in recent years. Before commissioners grant raises to other elected county officials, they must feel secure the county will have the money to fund raises into the future.

If the economy does rebound, which is what many experts are predicting, the commissioners should give serious consideration to raising the pay of the other elected officials and themselves, although we aren't ready to endorse a 7 percent hike. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize and reward their service to the public.


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