County board votes to increase pay for elected officials, non-union employees by 4.5 percent
The county’s compensation board voted unanimously during their June 9 meeting to give elected officials and non-union employees a 4.5 percent cost of living increase.
The compensation board is comprised of the three county attorneys, three other elected officials appointed by the commission, the county attorney and three resident taxpayers appointing by the commission.
The board meets annually to review the county’s finances and make a determination on whether increases should be applied.
County to increase pay for elected officials, non-union employees, deputies
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.
The compensation board determines the salaries for those positions and some have specific additional annual pay.
The Montana Legislature approved a bill last year that severed the longevity increase for deputies from the salaries of other elected officials, making it an automatic annual 1 percent increase.
Previously, the deputies only got the longevity increase if other elected officials got a cost of living increase.
Lawmakers change rule for deputy sheriffs; make 1 percent longevity increase automatic
Salaries for deputies are still tied to the sheriff’s salary as they are paid a percentage of what the sheriff makes.
During the June 9 meeting, a number of deputies asked the compensation board to increase the sheriff’s base salary to make his salary comparable to the Great Falls Police chief’s and to then allow deputies to be paid more.
The base salary for the elected officials for the current budget year is $66,530.48.
According to Cpl. Brian Bebbington, one of the deputies who spoke during the meeting, the average of other county department head salaries is $89,000. He said that’s substantially more than the sheriff and that the sheriff’s office is the largest department with the most employees to supervise.
The deputies said that a recruit deputy at CCSO starts at $50,712. They said the starting salary at GFPD is $60,236 and that within two years would make more than the Cascade County sheriff.
The deputies said that of the other six big counties in Montana, the average starting wage for deputies is $28-$29 an hour but is $24.38 an hour in Cascade County. The starting wage at GFPD in 2022 was $28.96, according to the deputies.
County finalizes raises for elected officials, deputies, non-union employees 
The deputies said that since 2017, seven deputies have left CCSO to continue law enforcement careers at other agencies due to wages. They said that several have recently left CCSO for the GFPD since they can earn more at the city.
“No one gets into law enforcement to get rich, but we should be able to provide for our families,” Deputy Steven Horn told commissioners.
Sgt. Jason Boyd told commissioners that in Cascade County, laborers are paid $25 an hour, while deputies are paid $24 an hour. He said that laborers also do important work, but don’t often find themselves facing regular danger on the job the way deputies do.
“Why would anyone apply for a position as a deputy,” Boyd said, when they could make more money doing something safer.
County elected officials, deputies get cost of living increase 
Deputy Kevin Lindland told commissioners that many deputies have had to work second jobs or apply for welfare programs to support their families on the county’s pay schedule for deputies.
Capt. Scott Van Dyken said that CCSO is hiring for four deputies currently but has only had three applicants so far and they often have underqualified applicants.
Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said they’re losing people to GFPD and that the deputies jobs are demanding.
“This is a vital, vital issue,” Slaughter said “The public deserves the very best.”
The compensation board did not discuss the request from the deputies to increase the sheriff’s salary.
The 4.5 percent cost of living increase will go into effect in the next budget, which runs from July 1 to Jun 30, 2023, though it won’t be finalized until August or September.
County board votes to increase salaries of elected officials by 2.4 percent for upcoming fiscal year 
That 4.5 percent increase equates to an additional $458,554 in salaries, according to Mary Embleton, the county budget officer.
The increase only applies to the elected officials and non-union employees.
All other employee compensation is governed by the 12 collective bargaining agreements with 16 unions. Those agreements often include cost of living adjustments.
Some of those are still in negotiations but the estimated cost of those salary increases is $607,000, Jeff Mora, the county human resources director told commissioners.
That makes a roughly $1 million worth of salary increases countywide.
He said health insurance is also a substantial cost as the county pays $655 monthly per employee for premiums. For the county’s’ 327 employees, he said that was $214,185 per month or $2,570,000 annually.
The state cost of living rate that is calculated by the Montana Association of Counties is 4.7 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.
The county is only able to increase property taxes by 1.77 percent for the upcoming budget year and commissioners said they can’t compete with the private sector for salaries with the limited revenue sources.
For example, in the current budget, the county had $68 million of expenses but based on property tax limitations, only generated $16.8 million in property tax revenue. The county also receives funds from the state, federal government and charges for services.
Embleton said the budget had been drafted assuming a three percent cost of living adjustment and commissioners said other cuts may be required.
Commissioner Joe Briggs said the county was working to automate more services, such as permitting, to reduce the number of staff positions needed. He said the county’s cost for insurance, other than health insurance, went up an average of 17 percent for an additional $170,000 annual cost.
Compensation is the largest potion of the county budget at 41.9 percent, or $31,283,342, Embleton said.
Commissioner Don Ryan said that they’re worried about recruitment and retention since they can’t match salaries from the private sector. He said some other Montana communities have addressed those needs with public safety levies.
He said that there were $8 million in budget requests this year for public safety needs that the county can’t afford.
Ryan said he’d be fine with sending a public safety levy to the voters.
Briggs said that with the initially proposed 3 percent cost of living increase, the possibility of layoffs was higher and higher with the higher cost of living adjustment as approved by the board. The cost of recruitment and training is also high, Briggs said, if they don’t retain employees.
Last year, the county compensation board increased the base salary of elected officials by two percent.
The estimated cost of living increase, according to the Montana Association of Counties, was 1.2 percent.
The board opted to give the higher cost of living increase last year, since the previous year it had only increased pay by 1 percent, when the statewide cost of living adjustment was 1.8 percent, due to concerns over the impact COVID might have on the county budget.