Committee to scrutinize county pay hikes

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners decided on a split vote Tuesday to have the county’s job evaluation committee scrutinize a series of pay raises that were not approved by the board.

Commissioners Cornel Rasor and Mike Nielsen voted in favor of vetting the raises through the committee. Commissioner Lewie Rich opposed the move.

The committee will evaluate a half-dozen raises that were given to sheriff’s personnel and three raises given to deputy clerks.

Commissioners believed they could only acknowledge the raises proposed by Clerk Marie Scott and Sheriff Daryl Wheeler. The board has since been advised by legal counsel that it is authorized by state code and the Idaho Constitution to approve employee wages.

“We have a responsibility to at least revisit this,” said Rasor.

None of the subject wage increases were channeled through the committee, a process that’s been in place for years.

Wheeler was never advised of the policy when he took office, although he provided the board with justifications and comparisons when he proposed the parity adjustments. Scott provided no justification to the board for boosting three of her deputies’ pay.

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“This whole issue is about process and policy,” said Nielsen.

But Rich and Treasurer Cheryl Piehl contended the matter was not properly placed on the board’s agenda. Piehl, who co-chairs the evaluation committee, said she was unaware the board intended to have the raises examined when agreed to attend the meeting.

“I feel this is a setup,” said Piehl

Piehl noted that a clerk in the commissioners’ office received a steep pay raise that wasn’t vetted through the committee, while Rich pointed out that disparity has been simmering ever since commissioners awarded sheriff’s deputy raises last year.

“That’s when this whole problem started,” said Rich.

Nielsen said he expects the committee to find some of the raises are justified. A deputy clerk with a master’s degree in accounting is one of the recipients of a raise and Nielsen said he was likely being underpaid.

It’s unclear if the county will attempt to try and roll back the raises if they are found to be too excessive by the committee. However, the board could freeze that wage until it is more comparable to similar positions in the labor market.

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