FONDA — Raises to the annual salaries of two elected positions in Montgomery County were approved less than a week before officials start new four-year terms.
The county clerk’s salary is up to $86,400 from $80,000, and the sheriff’s salary increased to $113,400 from $105,000.
“If there was no adjustment to the salaries, then those salaries would have stayed constant for a total of eight years,” Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said.
Describing the salary increases as cost of living adjustments, Ossenfort said they effectively amount to annual 2% increases over the four-year term for each position.
The increases are “modest” considering they are less than the 3% raises the county approved for union workers this year through contract negotiations, according to Ossenfort.
The Montgomery County Legislature approved the salary hikes this past week, despite displeasure among officials over their introduction at the end of the year.
“This is not directed at the county clerk or the sheriff, I don’t think they had a part in this at all,” District 2 Legislator Brian Sweet said, “but it just kind of puts a sour face on people’s mouths that you get elected, you get a raise.”
All six members of the board present for the meeting voted in favor of the measure, but legislators were critical of the timing.
“This should have been talked about and done way prior to the election so that it was upfront,” District 4 Legislator Robert Headwell, Jr. said.
At the very least, District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell said the wage increases should have been considered during the county’s annual budget process in the fall. Funds were transferred from equipment and support services line items to cover the increased salaries within the budget.
Still, legislators said they would support the resolution to increase the salaries of both elected offices since adjustments cannot be made mid-term.
Failure to approve the measure would have meant Montgomery County Clerk Brittany Kolbe and Sheriff Jeffery Smith, who were each re-elected in November, would have gone without wage increases for at least eight years as they started new four-year terms Sunday.
“I’ll support this resolution, because I feel eight years is a long time to go without a raise,” Sweet said. “But I just think this is done in the wrong fashion and I would not support a resolution of this fashion again in this time frame.”
The county’s personnel policy for elected officials states that the compensation for elected officials shall be reviewed by March 31 in the last year of the term of office. The clerk and sheriff’s salaries were reviewed this year, but officials declined to make an adjustment, according to Ossenfort.
“But I felt a lot has changed since then and, if we didn’t do it in December, we wouldn’t be able to do it in the next four years,” said Ossenfort, citing rising inflation rates.
Moreover, Ossenfort noted that the county is in the process of performing a salary study reviewing the wages for all positions and comparing them with salaries for other municipal workers and private employees.
Officials will use the analysis to consider future adjustments to compensation levels for various positions as part of the county’s broader efforts to improve recruitment and retention. The study is expected to be complete in the coming months.
The ongoing initiative led Ossenfort to reconsider potential wage adjustments for the clerk and sheriff. He brought the matter to legislators and received support to introduce the measure.
“The only reason I brought it to the floor was because they wanted it to be brought to the floor,” Ossenfort said.
In the future, Ossenfort said he will remind legislators during the March review of salaries for elected officials that wages cannot be adjusted mid-term and any decisions will remain in effect for multiple years.
“Salary adjustments for elected officials are always a touchy topic,” Ossenfort acknowledged. “A lot of times it garners attention moreso than say for an account clerk typist.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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