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Raises of 2.5%, 1%

Concern about property tax levy limits and, apparently in some cases dissatisfaction with the sheriff, led Pierce County supervisors last week to limit pay raises for elected officials.

The resolution on the May 23 County Board agenda would have given 2.5% raises to the clerk of court, county clerk, register of deeds, treasurer and sheriff in 2007 and 2008. While the others are running for two-year terms this fall, terms for the clerk of court and sheriff have been extended to four years, and the original resolution also called for 2.5% raises for those two officials in 2009 and 2010.

Instead the board approved 2.5% raises in 2007 and 1% increases in 2008 for all five positions. Raises for the sheriff and clerk of court will be limited to 1% in 2009 and 2010.

Pay for the positions must be set by June 1 when candidates can begin circulating nomination papers for the offices that will be filled in November elections.

Pamela Sans, who was elected to the board in April, questioned giving raises to a sheriff "that can't even balance a budget," referring to an overrun of more than $80,000 in the Sheriff's Department 2005 budget.

"It's really not the sheriff's fault on that," replied Prescott Supervisor Chip Simones, a member of the Law Enforcement Committee. Simones said Sheriff Everett Muhlhausen prepared a balanced budget, but committees cut it.

County Board members can't assume the incumbent will be re-elected but must approve a salary appropriate for the office, said River Falls Supervisor Ron Lockwood.

"I don't think withholding pay increases is a way to get back at an incumbent," said Lockwood. He said higher pay might encourage others to run for the seat.

State-imposed tax levy limits played a major role in setting this year's budget and are expected to have even greater impacts on subsequent budgets as county costs rise and its ability to increase taxes is limited.

If the county is "in bad straits," other county employees may not be getting raises some years, said Supervisor Rich Purdy. He said that by giving 2.5% raises four years out, the board sets in motion 2.5% increases for all other workers.

The difference in cost to the county between the two levels of raises for these five jobs "don't mean beans," said Supervisor Jim Camery. But, he said, it could set a standard.

"In a sense we're kind of establishing a precedent," he said.