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A proposed three-year pay increase for Yellowstone County's elected officials would boost pay an average 7 percent during each of the next two years, followed by a 2.5 percent increase in the third.

By the time the plan is fully implemented in fiscal year 2009, each of the county's full-time elected officials would make between $75,000 and $82,000 a year, compared with the current range of $58,000 to $75,000.

Highly paid officials

A union official said Tuesday that several Yellowstone County elected officials are already among the highest paid elected county officials in the state, and he questioned whether such increases are warranted.

"Have your job duties changed to warrant that kind of raise?" asked Jim Larson, a negotiator for Teamsters Local 190.

Elected officials and other members of the county compensation board reviewed the revised pay plan Tuesday. Part of the rationale for the new plan, officials said, is to help the county's lower-paid elected officials catch up with their counterparts who have been with the county longer.

The county's compensation committee has been working on a plan to equalize pay for several years.

The commissioners, who have final say on the matter, took no action on it Tuesday. They are expected to make a decision during a public hearing July 11.

A plan presented in April would have increased total compensation for 11 elected officials by 19.1 percent, from $688,831 in 2006 to $820,275 in 2007. That plan was rejected as too expensive, and the latest proposal has been developed in the past two months.

Proposal presented

The new proposal, presented during Tuesday's meeting of the compensation committee, would increase the officials' total compensation by 7 percent, from $688,831 to $739,361, between 2006 and 2007. Total compensation for elected officials would increase by 7.5 percent, to $794,517, the next year. In 2009, total compensation would increase by 2.5 percent to $814,747.

County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, who has frequently voted against big pay raises for county officials, said he'll withhold judgment until he finds out whether the county can afford the plan.

"We'll have to see where we are with the budget," Kennedy said. "That has always played a big part for me."

"I understand we're trying to get (elected officials' salaries) to where they should be, but I have a lot of other services that need to be offered," Kennedy said.

County Finance Director Scott Turner said the proposed pay schedule is intended to standardize compensation for the county's elected officials, and create a systematic plan for raises. The plan also seeks to help elected officials catch up over three years.

"I like the consistency of this plan," said Commissioner Jim Reno.

One purpose of the new pay plan is to equalize the salaries of elected officials and minimize the effects of longevity pay. Beginning in the 2001-02 fiscal year, Yellowstone County elected officials began receiving longevity pay because of a bill approved by the 2001 Legislature.

Since then, elected officials' salaries have varied widely, with long-tenured, elected officials typically making thousands more than those who were recently elected. Commissioner John Ostlund is in his first term, but his salary is the highest among the three commissioners because he worked for the county for more than 20 years before he was elected.

Elected officials' salaries can vary for other reasons. Sheriff Chuck Maxwell's salary and longevity pay are set by state statute. County Superintendent of Schools A.J. Micheletti makes about half of what other elected officials make because his office was converted to a part-time position several years ago. Clerk and Recorder Tony Nave is also county surveyor after the commissioners combined the offices. Treasurer Max Lenington also carries the title of county assessor.

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