A comparison of salaries

County officials paid less than peers for years

In this survey from the 2013-14 fiscal year, salaries for elected officials in Polk County trailed other counties by far.

Credit: Graphic by KATHY HUGGINS /Itemizer-Observer
In this survey from the 2013-14 fiscal year, salaries for elected officials in Polk County trailed other counties by far.


Greg Hansen

POLK COUNTY — Each spring, Polk County Administrator Greg Hansen puts together a comparison of the salaries of elected officials in five counties surrounding Polk.

Hansen does this as part of preparing the county’s budget. State law requires each county to form a “compensation board” to review elected official salaries and recommend changes, if any, each year.

In preparing a recommendation for the board — which consists of the three citizen members of the county’s budget committee — he’s noticed a pattern. Polk County is falling behind its neighbors in compensating those elected to serve.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners, for example, is paid $5,861 each in salary and expense allowances, totaling about $70,000 per year. That is more than twice the average salary for a job in Polk in 2013 of about $32,000, according to the Oregon Employment Department. But it’s also about 12 percent lower than the average amount commissioners in Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Tillamook and Yamhill counties receive.

“We are beginning to lag severely behind,” Hansen said.

He said that is not a reflection on the work performance of the county’s elected officials, which in addition to the three commissioners, includes the Polk County assessor, clerk, sheriff, treasurer and district attorney. Hansen contends that the group is among the most effective in the state.

Rather, it’s the fiscal reality that has them making less money than others in similar posts.

The Polk assessor’s salary in fiscal year 2013-14 was about 7 percent behind the five-county average. The clerk and treasurer have fallen about 15 percent behind, while the sheriff’s salary is nearly 7 percent behind.

The latter would be worse, if not for state law. Polk County had to adjust Sheriff Bob Wolfe’s salary in 2014-15 to comply with a law that requires the sheriff to be the highest paid employee in his office.

District Attorney Aaron Felton is paid by the state. But his colleagues in the other five counties receive an additional stipend ranging from $1,279 to $1,975 per month. Felton doesn’t receive any additional money from the county.

Since the 2011-12 fiscal year, elected officials have require a cost-of-living increase once, in 2012-13. That year they were given a 1.5 percent increase, except for sheriff, who received a 2 percent boost, plus the commissioners, sheriff, treasurer and assessor had their expense allowances increased.

“The recommendation for the salary adjustments is based upon the county’s ability to pay,” Hansen wrote in his report to the compensation committee in May 2014, in which he recommended no increase.

Hansen will be preparing that survey and recommendation again in May.

“We will be even further behind,” he said.

However, this year, the county’s “ability to pay,” has improved, thanks to anticipated growth in the county’s general fund.

In hopes of making up some ground, Hansen will ask the compensation board to allow for an increase in salary for Polk’s elected officials when it meets May 20.

Hansen acknowledges the contradiction of asking voters to approve a levy to provide for public safety, but at the same time believes trying to level the playing field is warranted.

“I feel confident that we are well-represented,” Hansen said. “They’ve done a good job at curbing costs.”

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