New position approval spurs salary concerns in county courthouse


April 22, 2021

A request to create a new position at a new pay rate has spurred county officials to begin a new analysis of their salary schedule.

The position, said Auditor Nicci Bergseng, is called Auditor Recording/Election Coordinator and would be paid at step 8 on the county salary schedule.

Commissioners were ready to vote on a motion to approve the request, but after other department heads raised concerns, they amended their motion to say they would vote on the issue at their April 27 meeting.

Bergseng had explained that the employee in the position is assuming a lot of responsibility and is required to have state elections training and certification. The position was discussed last fall and included in the 2021 budget.

Election processes are evolving and becoming more complicated, Bergseng said.

A recent development requires the county to create its own ballots and voter guides. The county has at least two elections a year, and in presidential election years, as many as five. This will save about $5,000 in printing costs, she said.

As the board prepared to vote, Commissioner Dan Cothren acknowledged that he had heard some discontent from other department heads about the creation of the new position and salary grade. The county has a group set up to evaluate pay rates, and it ceased meeting last year because of the pandemic. Those meetings need to resume, he said.

"Hopefully we can get folks who were left behind caught up," he said. "It all hinges on what we can afford."

At that point, other department heads raised concerns.

Treasurer Tammy Peterson placed blame for discontent on the board of commissioners and their handling of the situation.

"At budget time, we were told to hold the line," Peterson said, adding that both of her deputies are required to have training and certification. She said she would return with a proposal at the board's next meeting.

Sheriff Mark Howie commented that pay rates for both his deputies and his correction/communications officers need attention.

"For the record, we barely got our corrections officers up to a step 5 from a step 4, which is basically a poverty level wage," he said.

Corrections officers with years of experience and great responsibility are stuck at a low level, he said, and deputies are required to have advanced training.

"Their job (deputies) has changed a lot in the last 10 years," he said.

"At budget time, we were told to hold the line, and we did," commented court Clerk Kay Holland. "Every office has people who deserve more."

Cothren said he approved of the official's speaking up and moved to amend the motion to say the board would vote next Tuesday.

"I'm willing to look at this a little more," he said.

Commissioner Lee Tischer agreed.

"Our employees go the extra mile all the time," commented board Chair Gene Strong. "I would like to reward them the best we can, but we have to do it with what we can afford."


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