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The Jefferson County Salary Compensation Committee is recommending a 2% cost-of-living wage increase for elected officials, with the plan for that to trickle down to the sheriff’s deputies and county employees, according to Commissioner Cory Kirsch.

The county’s elected officials include the county commissioners, sheriff, county attorney, judge, interim school superintendent, clerk and recorder and treasurer.

The deputies receive whatever percent increase the elected officials receive plus their longevity benefit of 1%, according to Bonnie Ramey, Jefferson County clerk and recorder.

If the salaries of the elected officials are frozen, so are the deputies’ salaries, plus they also do not receive their longevity increase, said Ramey.

According to Montana law, a deputy sheriff or undersheriff is entitled to receive the longevity payment after their first year of employment, and that amounts to 1% of the minimum base annual salary for each year of service with the office.

County employees receive whatever they negotiate through their union, plus their longevity (benefit), said Ramey.

“If we freeze the employee’s wages, they will still receive their longevity as per the current contract,” according to Ramey.

So far, there is no indication that COVID-19 will negatively impact the budget, so this is a way for Jefferson County to stay competitive with wages, said Kirsch, adding that the process will include union negotiations.

Kirsch said the county tries to do a cost of living increase each year, and follows the Consumer Price Index to make that determination.

“We try to at least keep up with that,” he said, adding that the county also uses the state wage increases as a guide.

The Consumer Price Index increased 2.3% for all urban consumers for the period of February 2019 to February 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

If the county doesn’t increase salaries on a consistent basis, then it has to do a salary survey and it ends up costing more to catch up, said Kirsch.

Jefferson County has begun its annual budget process and is meeting with department heads this week. Once those budgets are determined, the county will set its preliminary budget after it gets the certified taxable value around the first of August, said Kirsch.

The certified taxable value of property is what local governments use to establish their budgets and set mill levies for property taxes, according to the Montana Department of Revenue.

In recent years, the county’s mill levy has been decreased by 1-2 mills, according to Ramey.

“Under the law, the county has a limit on the number of mills we can levy without a vote of the people. If our taxable valuation has increased, the Commission may determine that we don’t need to increase the mill levy to the limit allowed by statute. If our taxable valuation decreases, they will need to cut the budgets to the limit of the mills allowed by law,” said Ramey.

The county completes its computation under Montana HB124 to determine its levy limitation each year, said Ramey.

“We need the taxable valuation, which is received by the county on the first Monday of August. Once we do this computation we know the levy limitation for that fiscal year,” she said.

The Salary Compensation Committee includes all Jefferson County elected officials, as well as two-at large residents, Paul Backlund and Christina Binkowski.

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