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Holmquist explains vote against larger salary increases

by Colin Gaiser
Daily Inter Lake | May 27, 2020 1:00 AM

Flathead County Commissioner Pamela “Pam” Holmquist voted against a motion to increase the salaries of elected officials in Flathead County at the commissioners meeting last Tuesday morning.

It was incorrectly reported last week in the Daily Inter Lake that the motion passed unanimously. The motion still passed, with commissioners Phil Mitchell and Randy Brodehl voting in favor.

The motion was based on a County Compensation Board recommendation that elected officials should have their salaries increased by 3%, a cost-of-living adjustment to their base salaries, starting in fiscal year 2021. Holmquist was expecting the proposal to be for a smaller, more typical raise.

“I think we should have stuck with 1.8-to-2% like we’ve always done,” she said. She was surprised that the Compensation Board – which commissioners are members of – decided on recommending the 3% cost-of-living-adjustment increase.

Holmquist said she estimated the salary increase would cost the county an extra $1.3 million, and added she would have prefered to address health-insurance costs instead so the county would not have to pay more in payroll taxes.

She said she did not like some of the reasoning from the other commissioners, as Mitchell called it a “one-time thing” right before he is set to leave the office, while Brodehl said the county was losing too much staff to municipalities that paid more money. Holmquist instead argued that while the county had lost some staff, this was “not an apples-to-apples comparison” and every office handled compensation, such as insurance, differently.

“I don’t know why we feel like we need to keep up with the Joneses,” Holmquist said. “At the end of the day, it just didn’t sit right with me.”

Holmquist said the county typically does a salary survey every three-to-five years, which it can then use to increase salaries for underpaid employees and/or freeze salaries for overpaid employees.

She emphasized that her thoughts are not a reflection on the county employees, which she said are “amazing and do a wonderful job.”

Reporter Colin Gaiser can be reached at 758-4439 or cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com