Tightening the belts

County's proposal to forgo pay increases for top officials sends the right message

Jackson County's proposed budget does what any responsible government should do when it must cut corners — it starts with salaries at the top.

County commissioners, other elected officials and county managers would get no cost-of-living increases under the proposal, which seeks to make up a $7 million shortfall in the county's general fund.

That's especially significant given that county officials took considerable heat when the commissioners' salaries were substantially increased in 2008, and when other elected officials got a cost-of-living increase of 4.7 percent in 2001, when the county's unemployment rate was 15 percent.

This time around, the county is looking at a shrinking budget, thanks to lower interest rates on invested money, lower property tax revenue and the loss of federal timber payments. At the same time, the county is obligated to pay more toward employees' pensions because of losses to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Faced with those realities, County Administrator Danny Jordan wisely proposed no cost-of-living raises for elected officials, confidential employees and managers. The amount saved won't come close to filling the gap between income and expenses, but it sets the right tone.

The savings would total about $204,000, leaving $6.8 million to make up.

Hitting that target will be far more painful than forgoing a small pay increase. Exactly what cuts will be made has not been determined; the Budget Committee is holding hearings this week. But it's clear jobs will be on the line.

Jordan's proposal calls for cutting nearly 22 positions in the Sheriff's Office through attrition. The District Attorney's office would eliminate three positions; Community Justice would lay off eight people and lose an additional 2.75 positions through attrition.

Budget cuts are never pleasant, especially when employees' livelihoods are on the line. So it is good to see county officials leading by example and forgoing pay increases while they ask county staff to make sacrifices as well.

We have criticized the commissioners in the past for accepting what we deemed unreasonable rewards during tough economic times. They deserve to be congratulated when they do the right thing.

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