Lewis County Commissioners Vote 2-1 Against 10 Percent Raise for Elected Officials


After being given a controversial 10 percent salary increase by the citizen-led Lewis County Salary Commission, Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted Aug. 27 to deny the same increase to other elected officials in a move that Commissioner Edna Fund called “not pleasant.” 

“No one was happy in that room,” Fund said. 

County commissioners were legally obligated to accept the 10 percent increase in their own salaries, bringing them up to an annual $90,200. The salary commission recommended that same 10 percent to other elected officials, including many who make $75,000. The increase would have been the first cost-of-living adjustment for those positions since 2014, but was voted down 2-1 with Commissioner Gary Stamper outnumbered.

“The last thing people should be thinking is that we gave the commission a 10 percent raise just based on one year,” salary commission Chair Bob Berg said. “Their pay adjustment was less than the median salaries went up for everybody who works in Lewis County over the same time frame. But all that gets lost in the politics of this.”

Berg pointed out that the recommendation to raise other elected officials’ salaries would have represented less than a quarter of a percent of the county’s 2019 budget. 

“It’s not a big financial thing, it’s just the optics of it,” Berg said, noting that the recommendation was made after analyzing other counties’ salaries, the rise in median income, and changes to the consumer price index.

Commissioners expressed opposition to any increases given that so many residents are out of work and struggling during the pandemic, although Stamper argued that if county commissioners got a pay bump, so should the other officials, including the coroner, assessor, and auditor.

Last month, county commissioners said they would donate their own increase. 

“We have said we’re going to be spending our increase on nonprofits,” Fund said. “We know we need that to work for nonprofits because they’re getting hit so badly with COVID-19.”

Fund said she’s already donated the extra cash in her recent paycheck to the Junior Livestock Sale, which is normally held at the fair but had to adapt this year. But some elected officials who were denied the increase aren’t reassured by that promise, especially since those donations aren’t public record.

“They can say it, and I believe them, but by that same token they’re still getting it in their paycheck,” County Assessor Dianne Dorey said. “And who’s to say it’s not something they already donate to?”

Dorey has been Lewis County’s assessor for 22 years, and said six years with no salary adjustment has taken a toll.

“In the last six years I’ve been paying the increase in my medical costs out of my own pocket, while other employees have gotten an adjustment for cost of living to cover that,” Dorey said. 

County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer also pointed out that other county employees were given salary increases in the past year during COVID-19, although the increases were part of a reorganization intended to ultimately save money.

“I indicated that (the pandemic) didn’t stop them before,” Meyer said. “Everybody who got a raise absolutely deserved it … but so do the other elected officials.”

Fund argued that although the increases would’ve represented a small part of the budget, the burden created by the pandemic is unprecedented. However, she also said she hopes to revisit those salary increases this month as commissioners discuss the budget.

“I don’t think the county has any fluff in the budget,” she said.