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Local officials hardly overpaid

Most elected city positions pay nothing at all beyond expenses

Last week, a letter to the editor sent our way suggested that the city of Medford was out of line in proposing a $10 surcharge on the monthly water bill to help fund police and fire services. He didn't dispute the need for funding police and fire but concluded his letter with these lines:

"The first department(s) to be funded should be police and fire. Not wage increases for the elected officials."

The letter was returned &

8212; and not for grammar issues. It was returned because it suggests that the city of Medford's elected public officials &

8212; the mayor and members of the City Council &

8212; receive a wage. They do not, so it's not likely they are in for a pay increase anytime in the near future.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding in some circles that elected officials in Oregon receive paychecks for their efforts. But the vast majority do not. The vast majority are volunteers who for the most part run for office because they want to improve their community, their state or their school district.

In most of the state, the only local elected officials who are paid are county officials, such as commissioners, county clerks, assessors and sheriffs. At the state level, salaries are paid to the top tier of elected officials &

8212; the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, labor commissioner and state schools superintendent. State legislators are paid a stipend of about $1,400 a month, or about a dollar an hour more than minimum wage. For many of them, especially for those who live at a distance from Salem, that probably doesn't even cover the costs they incur in trying to live in two places at once and in giving up their "real" jobs for months on end to do their public duties.

Local elected officials at cities and school districts get reimbursed for expenses related to their elected positions, but nothing else. Council members, school board members and, of course, the non-elected members of planning commissions, budget committees and the like often put in long hours after working all day at their paying jobs. The perks are few and far between.

For those elected officials who do receive a full salary, it is often considerably less than they could make in the private sector. Agree with them or not, it's hard to suggest that we're overpaying the Jackson County commissioners, who make $62,000 a year while overseeing an organization with a $287 million budget.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski makes $93,600 a year, less than more than 100 other state employees who were not elected, but rather hired for their professional skills. We suspect if Ron Saxton is elected governor, he will take a substantial reduction in pay compared to the salary he draws as a business lawyer.

It is every citizen's right and even duty to critically examine the decisions their elected public officials make. But don't criticize them for the money they make while in office, because few of them make much and most of them make nothing at all.