Burns makes pitch for raising coroner’s salary

MONTESANO — Grays Harbor Coroner Dan Burns says he’s the lowest paid elected official in the county and the lowest paid county department head. And he wants a raise.

On Tuesday, Burns took his case for a salary increase to his budget hearing before the county commissioners. He acknowledged it’s going to be a tough sell, no matter what, because of the budget challenges ahead for the county.

Under the new budget process put in place by Commission Chairwoman Terry Willis, except for a few exceptions, only one commissioner is meeting with each of the departments during three special meetings this month.

Commissioner Herb Welch was the chosen delegate to meet with Burns.

“I totally think the increase in the coroner’s salary is justified,” Burns told Welch during the 35-minute budget session.

Welch’s questions were based more on what the Coroner’s Office may be able to cut rather than on budget increases.

“We don’t have any money and everyone wants more and deserves more,” Welch told him.

Burns points out that although he has three part-time deputy coroners, he’s often on call himself 10 to 12 days. Basically, he says, he’s doing his old job as a deputy coroner on top of the job of coroner he was elected to three years ago.

Burns says a recent survey he conducted of the 12 full-time coroners in the state, showed eight of them are paid the same as the clerk, treasurer, assessor and auditor. In Grays Harbor, all of those postions receive $72,804 annually. Burns gets $59,388. The increase would make it $65,388.

The Sheriff is also asking for a raise this year, boosting his salary by about $4,493 to $94,351.

Even with a $6,000 increase, Burns’ salary would be lower than that of the facilities director, who made $67,344 until his retirement earlier this year or the fair director, who makes $70,397, which includes a $1,777 raise he received this year and is budgeted to receive another raise next year. And Burns would still make less than several of the deputy director positions.

“But it’s a start,” Burns said. “I’m trying to get parity here.”

“We’re certainly not close to paying you what you’re worth, that’s for sure,” agreed Welch.

Burns said the coroner’s position may have started out as part time years ago, but he said both former coroners John Bebich and Ed Fleming worked full time. Burns said he’s continued the tradition.

Burns said he thinks the salary has just never been adjusted from that part time level.

“I understand it’s not the best of times, but when is?” he said, adding that he’s routinely not being reimbursed for travel unless it’s out of the county.

Burns is also seeking a 3.6 percent raise for his deputy coroners, which are all funded at 0.8 of one full-time position and are on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. At a minimum, Burns is asking for those raises to be put in place and for him to work an additional on call day to allow more wiggle room in his budget to accommodate that raise.