Yellowstone County elected officials may see 2.5% pay raise

2014-06-17T16:55:00Z 2014-06-18T16:52:04Z Yellowstone County elected officials may see 2.5% pay raiseBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A panel of mostly Yellowstone County elected officials is considering giving elected officials a 2.5 percent increase to their base wages for fiscal year 2015.

During the first of two meetings of the committee, Commissioner John Ostlund on Tuesday recommended, and the panel approved, considering a proposed 2.5 percent wage increase.

The percentage, Ostlund said, was “a fair salary increase” and that elected officials needed and deserved a pay raise.

The board also asked Scott Turner, county finance director, for more information on how the raise would affect the overall county budget.

Tied by state law

The group agreed to leave the county attorney’s salary, which is tied by state law to a district judge’s salary, as is.

In addition, County Attorney Scott Twito, panel chairman, said he would research statutory requirements of the justice of the peace’s salary.

The panel will meet again on June 24 for a final recommendation to forward to the county commission. The members include the three commissioners, the sheriff, treasurer, clerk and recorder and two citizen representatives.

The 2.5 percent would apply to the base salary and not to longevity or other pay, which makes the effective rate increase about 1.78 percent, Turner said.

Setting raises for elected officials affects the entire budget because sheriff’s deputies’ salaries are tied by law to the sheriff’s salary. Although the sheriff’s deputies have negotiated a contract with the county that includes a 4.1 percent increase in wages and longevity, their salaries are linked to the sheriff’s.

Reno: ‘Stepping backward’

Commissioner Jim Reno said he was not sure whether a 1.78 percent effective increase was “reasonable.” The county is giving about a 3 percent wage increase to employees and the proposed effective rate for elected officials would be “stepping backward,” he said.

In another salary issue, Twito said state law says the justice of the peace may not be paid less than the clerk of district court. That could be an issue this year because the county filled a vacancy by appointing Justice of the Peace David Carter, who began the job in January.

The county has two justices of the peace. Carter, formerly a deputy county attorney, is running for election this year. Longtime Judge Pedro Hernandez also is running for re-election.

The position’s base salary is $63,165, which is the same as for clerk of district court. Hernandez, because of his years in office, receives the maximum $20,572 in longevity pay, bringing his total salary to $83,737.

Clerk of Court Kristie Boelter also receives an additional $4,114 in longevity pay, bringing her total salary to $67,280.

Twito said the question regarding pay for justice of the peace is whether the law applies to the salary or the total compensation. There was not a lot of legal background on the matter, he said.

Last year, the commissioner approved a 3 percent base wage increase for elected officials. And the county followed state guidance for the county attorney and approved a 5.25 percent raise, bringing his salary to $117,600. The raise covered 2014 and 2015. A county attorney’s salary cannot exceed or be less than 95 percent of a district judge’s salary. The county attorney does not get longevity.

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