Commission plans salary adjustments, hashes waste issues
February 24, 2022
Wahkiakum County commissioners on Tuesday set in motion a process to increase commission salaries, and they covered a range of solid waste issues.
Salaries for commissioners haven’t increased since 2004. The board passed a resolution in 1996 establishing annual increases ranging from 2-3 percent, ending in 2004 at $31,366 per year. Since then, there have been no increases.
Commissioners cannot raise their own salary while in their current term of office. Any increase would start in a subsequent term, either for a new office holder or a re-elected commissioner.
The state median annual salary for a commissioner is $48,461, said Commissioner Lee Tischer. If the salary had received the 3 percent annual cost of living adjustment in effect in 2004, the board’s salary would be $56,743. He acknowledged there were several years when no elected official received a salary increase because of tight county revenue.
Commissioners and other county officials agreed the 2004 salary doesn’t reflect the responsibility of the office.
“A lot of things have changed since 2004,” commented board Chair Gene Strong.
“When you look at the job, it’s pretty substantial,” 20-plus-year Commissioner Dan Cothren said. When he started, a commissioner could take care of business in one day. Now, they’re busy in and out of the office several days a week.
“You have a big responsibility,” Cothren said. “You have to take care of the budget and sustain it.
“For somebody to do the job, you’ll have to pay them enough.”
Commissioners and other officials discussed different ways to build in automatic increases.
Some counties tie the salary to a percentage of the superior court judge salary, which is set by a state board, Strong said. A member of the audience added that some counties, including Cowlitz, tie all elected officials’ salaries to a percentage of the judge’s salary.
Strong suggested setting the commissioner salary at 25 percent of the judge’s salary, and Cothren and Tischer agreed to consider that.
Commissioners also agreed to reconvene the county’s salary committee and consider tying all elected officials’ salaries to a percentage of the judge’s salary.
“We could do the commissioners now and modify the resolution later to include others,” Strong said.
In other business, commissioners and members of the public discussed solid waste issues, including the board’s plan to strengthen enforcement authority for junk vehicle and hazardous waste problems.
During public comment, Puget Island resident Jason Will referred to last week’s news that the board wants to add teeth to the hazardous waste ordinance and said he opposes infringement on private property rights.
Cothren commented that the issues being addressed involved actions of people that adversely impact neighbors and/or the public. There are five serious cases, he said.
Will suggested working with people to address problems instead of forcing people to take action.
Former county Commissioner Mike Backman also suggested working with people instead of ramping up enforcement authority.
“This is an old issue,” Backman said. “We need to think about how we work with these five people so that we don’t impact the whole county.”
Strong said the board will consider carefully any changes to the ordinance.
“We don’t want to be over burdensome, but we have got to have some teeth in it,” he said. “It’s complicated. It will take some time.”
Will also suggested the county needed to take some action on Class A biosolids that were deposited in long piles on an Island farm and never applied as fertilizer.
Commissioners and county Public Works Director Chuck Beyer questioned whether the county had authority over the biosolids; that authority probably rests with the state Department of Ecology.
Strong suggested Will write an email or letter which could be the basis of further inquiry.
The board approved an order of incorporation to annex land into Fire District 3, which serves western Wahkiakum County.
Present district boundaries roughly follow county roads; the annexation will incorporate the rest of the land lying inside county boundaries and roughly west of the summit of KM Mountain.
County Elections Coordinator Kaelee Dearmore said fire district officials presented signed petitions supporting the annexation from affected residents who live outside the current district boundaries and who wanted to be included in the district.
Because over 60 percent of the involved voters signed the petition, no election was necessary to initiate the annexation, she said.