County to increase pay for elected officials, non-union employees, deputies
Cascade County compensation board voted unanimously during their June 10 meeting to increase the base salary of elected officials by two percent.
The estimated cost of living increase, according to the Montana Association of Counties, is 1.2 percent.
Since the board only gave a 1 percent increase last year when the COLA was 1.8 percent due to concerns over the impact COVID-19 might have on the county’s budget, County Attorney Josh Racki suggested the two percent increase to keep up with inflation a bit better.
The increase is for county election officials, including the county attorney, sheriff, commissioners, treasurer, clerk and recorder, clerk of court, two justices of the peace and non-union employees.
When the board approves a cost of living adjustment of any amount other than zero, under state law it triggers a one-percent longevity increase for sworn sheriff’s deputies. The longevity increase is one percent of a deputy’s base salary on the anniversary of hire per state statute only in years when a COLA is approved, according to Mary Embleton, county budget officer.
The two percent increase for the elected officials and non-union employees will cost about $150,900 and the deputies longevity increase will cost about $87,600, according to the county human resources department for a total projected increase of $238,500.
The Montana Legislature approved a bill this year that severs the deputies longevity increase from the salaries of other elected officials, but that change won’t go into effect until October, so the board discussed the need to increase salaries for elected officials so that deputies would get their longevity increase as recruitment and retention remains a challenge for the county.
Commissioner Joe Briggs said that the county “can’t compete with the private sector,” but he opposed the law change for the longevity increases for deputies since he said the real problem is that deputy salaries are a percentage base of the sheriff’s salary.
“I think it just adds to the problem,” Briggs said of the law change.
The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office lost another deputy this week to the Great Falls Police Department for better compensation.
“It’s a real problem,” Briggs said.
The county is restricted under state law on how much tax revenue it can generate annually and can only increase taxes by half the average rate of inflation for the last three years. This year, the county can increase property taxes by a maximum 0.93 percent.
The current base salary for county elected officials are:
- county commissioners: $65,225.96
- county treasurer: $65,225.96
- clerk and recorder: $65,225.96
- clerk of court: $65,225.96
- justice of the peace (2): $65,225.96
- county attorney: $119,381.67
The county commission will finalize the salary increase through the budget process this summer.
Jeff Mora, county human resources director, said that the county has 11 collective bargaining agreements and that those groups watch the compensation board to gauge and determine their salary negotiations.
The county is anticipating an increase of about $249,000 in salary increases for employees in 10 of those groups and another estimated $300,000 for the detention officers’ labor contract.
The county has struggled to recruit and retain detention officers so they’ve recently started advertising for those vacancies with a pay increase from $18 per hour to $21 per hour, Briggs said.
The county spend roughly $2.5 million annually on health insurance for its 339 employees, Mora said, and it’s free to employees, but they pay the premiums for dependents.
Embleton said that officials are still developing the capital improvement plan for the upcoming fiscal year and the only known projects are those at Expo Park and the Adult Detention Center.
The county has received $7.9 million last month for its share of direct federal COVID relief funds and officials are still determining what the funds can be used for and the timelines for when they must be spent.
There’s also funding available for water and sewer projects and Briggs said that requests have already come in for those funds, but many of the projects are in the preliminary planning stages and may not meet the deadlines for expenditure.
The county is also anticipating a slight increase in its entitlement share from the state, which is typically about $2 million annually, and the state intercap loan rate dropped from 2.5 percent to 1.65 percent, which will adjust the county’s cost on the outstanding balance of $1.3 million on the courthouse roof loan and $1.6 million on the grandstands project.