YAKIMA - Working under a salary freeze in effect since 2002, Yakima County commissioners yesterday approved a resolution lifting the freeze and raising their salaries by nearly $1,000 per month.
Under state law commissioners can not set their own salaries, so yesterday's proposal was presented by Human Resources Director Linda Dixon.
Dixon said a wage freeze on elected officials' salaries was instituted because of budget problems.
Over time, freezes on the other wages were lifted, but commissioners kept theirs at the 2002 level of $5,641 per month. The lone exception was action in 2002 to raise the commissioner district three seat to the same pay levels as the other two commissioners.
Dixon said yesterday's move will bring commissioner salaries up to par with the county's other elected officials-assessor, auditor, clerk and treasurer-who currently earn $6,133 per month.
The commissioners' pay raise to $6,604 per month won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2009, after the current commissioner terms expire in 2008.
Even though commissioners' pay will be in line with other Yakima County elected officials-the assessor, auditor, clerk and treasurer, as noted earlier- commissioners will still earn less than their counterparts around the state.
Yakima County surveyed county commissioner salaries in other counties, including Thurston, Cowlitz, Kitsap, Spokane and Benton counties.
The result, Dixon noted, show that Yakima County commissioners now make only 70 percent of the average salary of commissioners in those counties. Given the salary difference with western Washington counties, Dixon said the goal is to pay commissioners 95 percent of what those other county commissioners earn.
"This won't reach the 95 percent mark, but it will help bring parity within the county," Dixon said.
The county's financial director, Craig Warner, said the pay raises in 2009 won't be a problem for the budget.
"We're only talking about three employees and the budget will be able to absorb that," he said.
County Commissioner Mike Leita said the catalyst for raising the pay for the first time in four years was the decision, effective in 2006, to eliminate the county administrator position.
"We have placed commissioners into full-time leadership positions," he said.
Leita added that not only do the salary increases reflect commissioners' full-time job status as county administrators, but the raises are needed to attract candidates with strong leadership and administrative experience.
After 2009, commissioner salaries will automatically increase by 2.5 percent each year.