by barbara anne greene
Five of the elected Big Horn County officials asked the commissioners for raises for their staff during the May 15 meeting.
The officials were Treasurer Becky Lindsey, Assessor Gina Anderson, Clerk of the District Court Serena Lipp, Clerk Lori Smallwood and the spokesperson for the group, Sherriff Ken Blackburn. No one from the coroner’s office or county attorney’s office were at the meeting to make the case about the raises. County special prosecutor and future county attorney Marcia Bean was in attendance but was not there in the same capacity as the others.
Blackburn stated in person and in the letter that the department heads have a desire to provide increases to the staff of 4 to 5 percent, but that they understood the budget issues in the state. So for the staff, the group asked for a 3 percent raise on July 1, 2018.
The other portion of the request was to allow the department heads more freedom to give more frequent increases to give the “employees more consistent recognition of their vital roles in the operations of this county.”
In the past employees like elected officials got increases every four years, per county policy. The officials noted that their desire to establish this policy is “an effort to avoid the ever increasing instances of lawsuits that stem from employees receiving lower wages than their counterparts throughout the state and perceived disparities. We believe this proactive approach to being able to pay employees fairly, regardless of yearly revenue fluctuation, will contribute noticeably to decreased employee attrition and overall increase in morale.”
The officials also requested a raise for themselves. State statute 18-3-107 says that elected officials, including commissioners, may ask for raises every four years. Commissioners of each county are required to meet not later than June 1 for the purpose of setting salaries for elected officials.
The last time the county elected officials received a raise was January of 2015. The group presented a letter and documentation to the commissioners that showed that the county officials receive the seventh-lowest wage in the state. Big Horn County commissioners receive the 12th lowest wage in the state.
The salary resolution presented to the commissioners would increase the salaries in 2019 to $65,000 for the assessor, county clerk, clerk of the district court and treasurer; $68,100 for the sheriff; $87,000 for the county attorney; $27,000 for the county coroner and $30,665 for the commissioners.
There was an extended discussion between the officials and commissioners. Commission Chairman Felix Carazales said he is for the taxpayers and he is for the employees; he wants to do what is right by all.
The commissioners and the officials ultimately agreed to give employees the 3-percent raise on July 1, 2018, to give the department heads the option to give raises to their staffs over the next four years and to give a raise to all elected officials except the commissioners in 2020.