MONTESANO — On their first split vote, the Grays Harbor County commissioners approved a salary resolution allowing previously approved 2 percent cost of living raises to go forward.
Commissioner Wes Cormier dissented, as fellow Commissioners Herb Welch and Frank Gordon voted to approve the salary increases.
Cormier and Gordon are the new faces on the board, in office for about two weeks, taking over for former commissioners Terry Willis and Mike Wilson. The previous board approved contracts calling for the raises with the county’s unions last month. But, before those raises could technically go forward, the commissioners had to approve a separate salary resolution.
“We were going to have a two-to-one vote eventually,” Gordon said, although, he thought it would be along party lines. Gordon’s a Democrat, while Welch and Cormier are Republicans.
Besides honoring the raises previously granted to county employees, Welch and Gordon also extended the raises to elected officials, who were deliberately left out of the previously approved raises. Even so, the raises will not apply to the three incumbent commissioners, they both pointed out.
“I want us all to start with an even playing field,” Gordon said. “If we’re going to give one group raises, they all should get raises. … It’s like having two children and one gets more allowance and the other doesn’t and you have to explain that. It doesn’t make sense.”
Cormier said he had no choice but to respect the raises negotiated and approved by the prior Board of County Commissioners. But he wasn’t completely happy with the choice the board made.
“It was a going away present,” Cormier said. “The 2 percent raise was contradictory to any budget practice. To give a 2 percent raise and then force departments to do a 3.5 percent cut on top of that doesn’t make sense.”
However, he wanted the board to take another look at salary increases that also would have gone to exempt staff not covered by union agreements.
Cormier said that salary raises given to the 97 exempt employees and the elected officials not covered by the union contract costs the county “a constant $100,000” extra out of the general fund into the future at a time when the commissioners are supposed to be looking for ways to cut back.
“For the exempt employees, I know there’s been a disproportionate number of raises in the past, but given the state the budget’s in, I can’t in good budget practice accept this,” Cormier said on the floor of the commission chambers.
“I understand your position,” Welch replied.
“We both do,” Gordon concurred.
Welch said he does have some regrets with joining Wilson and Willis to authorize the raises last month.
“If we were voting on whether or not to approve the overall salary adjustment, I would have a different vote also, but that’s done,” Welch said. “All we’re voting on now in reality is including the elected officials in the raises. And that is the only difference this vote is making.”
The salary hikes will cost the county an extra $242,242 out of the general fund and $206,466 out of other, miscellaneous funds, such as the roads fund.
Most county departments still have not done their 3.5 percent across-the-board cuts, which was entered as a “contra” entry giving them the full year to figure out how to do the cuts.