By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted to give Sheriff Rob Snaza a raise of more than $18,000 a year.
The move comes after discussing the issue for as long as he’s been on the board, said BOCC Vice Chair Gary Stamper who was elected two years ago.
Snaza was also elected in November 2014.
Sheriff Rob Snaza
The salaries of Lewis County’s elected officials are set in a process that involves a citizen panel. The panel establishes the pay for the three county commissioners. It makes recommendations about the wages for the other elected officials which the three-member board of county commissioners may adopt.
The process has been in place since 2001.
The last time the panel convened, in early 2014, they suggested raises of five percent for all the positions. Beginning in January of that year, and still today, the annual salary of $75,108 applies to the assessor, auditor, clerk, coroner and treasurer. Coroner Warren McLeod actually only made half that until he switched from half-time to full-time in 2015.
The panel’s recommendations gave the county commissioners a little more ($82,620), the sheriff even more ($90,644), and the prosecutor even more than that ($141,705).
Commissioner Edna Fund
A resolution to increase the sheriff’s salary was approved unanimously on Monday by Commissioners Stamper, Edna Fund and Bill Schulte. It was one of eight items on the consent agenda, voted on as a bundle.
The stated reason in the resolution indicates the matter would be “depoliticized” if it were taken out of the hands of the salary commission. Instead, beginning Jan. 1, it states, the sheriff shall be paid a salary five percent greater than the undersheriff.
The resolution indicates other reasons for the change: because the sheriff currently earns less than his subordinate and because he earns less than sheriffs of comparable counties in the state.
Undersheriff Wes Rethwill is paid $101,280 a year, with his pay tied to the pay of other commissioned officers at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The deputies wages are set by a collective bargaining agreement – their union contract – with the undersheriff and other command staff’s salaries set at certain percentages higher.
Commissioner Bill Schulte
On Jan. 1, Undersheriff Rethwill’s annual salary will rise to $103,812. So Sheriff Snaza’s annual salary of $90,644 will grow to $109,000.
Sheriff Snaza says he’s “just thinking of our office and thought it was the right thing to do.”
He put the resolution before the county commissioners in July, and it got tabled because Commissioner Schulte was out on leave, he said.
“This was two years in the making, because I’ve never asked for a raise before,” Snaza said.
Among the reasons for his proposal, he said, are he’s earning less than his undersheriff, less than some other sheriffs who don’t even run jail facilities and he feels the role of sheriff has changed.
“I just felt like the sheriff is just like the CEO of a company and should be paid at a higher rate,” Snaza said.
Commissioner Gary Stamper
Snaza spoke of how different his job is from other elected Lewis County officials.
He’s in charge of a much larger organization with more than 100 employees, as well as volunteers and then a jail with an average population of 200 inmates.
“You’re responsible 24-7, 365 days a year,” he said. “If we have a flood, it’s not the auditor that gets up at 3 a.m.”
He said he’s not asking the commissioners to put more money into the sheriff’s office budget for his raise. The sheriff’s office will absorb it, he said.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office annual budget of about $14.2 million this year is expected to be about $14.5 million next year.
He said he has mixed feelings about it, feeling he deserves the raise, but thinks some people might not understand it.
“I know the concerns, people are going to say, ‘he’s an elected, he knew what he was getting into’,” he said.
And he pondered aloud, he wished it didn’t take place the same time as the county is considering cutting back on its support to the senior centers.
It’s something the former sheriff contended with, earning less than some of the people working below him as well. When Snaza was a sergeant, sometimes with overtime his paycheck would be bigger than Mansfield’s, he said.
“I used to always tease Steve Mansfield about it,” Snaza said.
Part of Snaza’s thinking includes how fiscally responsible he feels his office has been.
“I think it’s incumbent on every official to ask, what are we doing to save money, and to bring revenue into the county,” he said.
Last year, the sheriff’s office used $684,000 less than they were budgeted for, and turned that money back into the county general fund, he said.
They also bring in money, by renting out jail beds to other agencies.
In 2015, that amounted to a little over $1.5 million in revenue from the jail, he said. “This year, we’re looking at about $2.1 million,” he said.
The local salary commission’s role has not changed otherwise, by the recent resolution.
Its role remains to set the pay for the assessor, auditor, clerk, coroner, treasurer, commissioners and prosecutor.
When the group evaluated salaries in 2014, its philosophy was an elected official in Lewis County should be paid a comparable rate to an individual doing the same job in a similar county.
The only Lewis County elected officials whose pay is not dealt with by the salary commission are the judges in Lewis County District and Superior Courts. They’re fixed by a state commission on salaries.
And as of Monday, the sheriff’s pay is exempt from that group’s influence as well.
The long name for the citizen group is the Lewis County Independent Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.
The salary commission only convenes when requested by the Lewis County Board of Commissioners, according to Lewis County Human Resource Director Archie Smith.
2016 LEWIS COUNTY ELECTED OFFICIALS ANNUAL SALARIES
Assessor: Dianne Dorey: $75,108
Auditor: Larry E. Grove: $75,108
Clerk: Scott Tinney: $75,108
Coroner: Warren McLeod: $75,108
Treasurer: Arny Davis: $75,108
Commissioner: Bill Schulte: $82,620
Commissioner: Edna Fund: $82,620
Commissioner: Gary Stamper: $82,620
Sheriff: Rob Snaza: $90,644
Prosecutor: Jonathan Meyer: $141,705*
* The Lewis County prosecutor’s pay is tied to the salary commission but also has state influence, and the state pays more than half of it, according to Lewis County Human Resource Director Archie Smith.