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Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito began the meeting of the County Compensation Committee saying that he could not accept his proposed salary increase.
Following a pre-determined process, the position of county attorney would receive an automatic 6.6 percent increase, easily more than five times that of any other elected official’s increase. Twito, in office for only five months, said “I don’t know how I can justify that to the county taxpayers. I think I am doing a good job, but maybe not that good.”
The Compensation Committee met twice over the past two weeks and voted to increase the base salaries of elected officials by one percent. The Committee also approved a proposal from Twito that would increase his salary by 2.5 percent in 2012 and 2013.
The difference in the rate of increase lies in the fact that there is no built-in longevity pay for the County Attorney. State law requires that the county commissioners get a longevity pay increase of $2000, and the Sheriff gets an automatic one percent on the base in longevity increase.
The longevity pay is capped for other elected county officials at $20,572 except for the three who are new to office and have not reached the cap – Jeff Martin, the new Clerk and Recorder, Carol Muessig, Clerk of Court and Sheriff Mike Linder. They will each receive their longevity increase of $4,114 upon the anniversary of their employment.
Scott Turner, Finance Director said that the increases will increase the cost to the county’s payroll by exactly two percent.
The action of the committee is a recommendation that the county commissioners will take up at their next meeting on Tuesday, June 21.
In addition to the County Attorney, the Compensation Committee is comprised of the three county commissioners, the county Treasurer, Clerk and Recorder, Sheriff, and two at-large citizens – Billie Ruff and Oscar Heinrich.
Several years ago, the Compensation Committee, at the urging of the previous County Attorney, recommended basing the County Attorney’s salary on that of the District Court Judges, which are set (and paid for) by the state. It has no longevity component, as do other county officials, but rises in accordance with the increases of District Court Judges as determined by the state on a biannual basis.
The state reimburses the county for a portion of the County Attorney’s salary. Twito’s current salary is $106,087, and would increase to $113,928 at 6.6 percent.
Yellowstone County’s elected officials had a one percent increase to their base pay last year, with a freeze placed on their longevity pay. Across the board, that amounted to an increase of .76 percent, reported Turner.
Twito said that he has several employees who received no increase last year. “I’m not willing to accept that percentage increase, based on what has happened to this county,” he said, adding, “This county is run better than the state.”
The county has imposed a modified hiring freeze, requiring approval to refill any vacated positions or to add any new positions. The county faces reduced revenues because of tax protests, and unexpected costs because of tornados and floods.
The elected officials’ base salary for 2010-11 was $59,528.07. A one percent increase adds about $595.
Other factors impact the salary of other county officials.
The County Treasurer receives an additional 10 percent for having assumed the duties of County Assessor and County Superintendent of Schools. The Clerk and Recorder receives an additional 10 percent for also serving as County Surveyor.
The County Sheriff’s longevity pay is set by state law and differs from that of the county. And, any increase in the Sheriff’s base salary automatically rolls over to the formula used in calculating salaries for deputies under their union contract, posing a significant impact to the Sheriff’s budget.
Current salaries for the rest of Yellowstone County’s elected officials are: County Auditor Deby Hernandez, $80,100; Clerk of District Court Carol Muessig, $67,756; Clerk & Recorder/Surveyor Jeff Martin, $65,480; County Commissioners Reno, Ostlund and Bill Kennedy, $82,100; Justice of the Peace Larry Herman and Pedro Hernandez $80,100; Sheriff Mike Linder, $74,028.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103