Missoula County elected officials forgo pay raise during pandemic

(KPAX) Missoula County’s elected leaders will forego an all but symbolic pay raise this coming year, saying they would rather be conservative during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They said a “penny increase” will save limited funds to make sure first responders get what they’re due.

The step came Wednesday as the county’s Compensation Board met online to discuss what increases elected officials would receive in the coming year.

Normally it’s a routine step but with COVID-19 hammering the economy, costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in response – and a bleak outlook for tax revenue – board members felt a conservative approach was needed.

The board voted to take the token “penny per hour” raise, which will allow the county to honor longevity payments for sheriff’s deputies.

“There’s absolutely no way in good conscience we could expect any of our employees to take a reduced increase to their salaries at the same time that we would be increasing elected officials salaries,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said.

The county is still trying to get a better picture of what next year’s budget will look like, but commissioners and staff stress the county isn’t looking at layoffs.

Lead staff and county commissioners stressed they aren’t looking at massive layoffs to make up for COVID-19 costs, and the expected drop in tax revenues during the second half of the year.

Other elected officials on the board expressed concern over layoff rumors but commissioners said right now they’re merely looking at ways to save money, especially given the unanswered questions of what’s to come.

“Whether that’s postponing other increases that we might have in collective bargaining agreements, talking to those bargaining units, there’s been no direct conversation about reductions in force at this point,” said Chief Operating Officer Chris Lounsbury.

“I think the numbers that Chris painted are the hand that’s been dealt us right now with the knowledge that we have how this is going to play out the rest of the year,” Strohmaier added. “It could be better or it could be worse, depending on whether there’s a second wave of this pandemic.”