This story has been updated since its original publication.
Garfield County Commissioners inappropriately raised their own salaries in 2012, according to a report released this week from the Washington State Auditor’s Office.
Commissioners voted during a prior term to automatically raise their own salaries in 2012 to adjust for cost of living, with the exact amount to be determined by the Consumer Price Index, but not to exceed 5 percent. As part of a county-wide cost-of-living adjustment, all county salaries were raised 2 percent in 2012. The commissioners salaries were raised to $22,819 each, with a total increase of $1,342 in 2012.
The auditor’s report notes that the state constitution prohibits increases in compensation for elected officials during their current term in office, and that this restriction “extends to automatic cost-of-living increases when the exact amount of the increase cannot be known in advance.”
The report also said the commissioners were notified of this concern during their 2007 audit.
The county responded to the auditor’s findings in the report, saying the county did not believe they were violating state law and that the procedure in place ensured commissioners were treated fairly in cost-of-living adjustments, “without the risk of abuse that a Commissioner would simply raise his/her salary for their own benefit and to the detriment of the County.”
County Prosecutor Matt Newberg said the state has not provided adequate justification for their claim that cost-of-living adjustments of this nature are not allowed.
“Nobody has pointed out where that rule has come from,” he said.
Commissioner Dean Burton said in the 20 years he’s been a commissioner, all salary increases for commissioners have been cost-of-living adjustments, rather than increases due to merit or for other reasons.
The last salary increase for commissioners was a 3.5 percent raise in 2009.
He said the county had not yet determined what action they would take regarding the audit results.
Auditor spokesman Thomas Shapley said the auditor’s office stands by their findings. Because the auditor is a reporting agency, he said the office would not take any further action until the county’s next audit.