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Jackson County elected leaders to get pay raises

The Jackson County Budget Committee has knocked Tax Assessor Dave Arrasmith down a pay grade due to repeated errors in his office. File photo
Tax assessor demoted a pay grade due to errors

Jackson County elected officials are slated to get 4.13% cost-of-living raises and, for those who are eligible, additional raises for gaining experience on the job.

Jackson County Tax Assessor Dave Arrasmith will get the cost-of-living raise. But instead of moving him forward a pay grade for gaining experience, the Jackson County Budget Committee wants to knock him down a pay grade because of a history of errors in the tax assessor’s office under his leadership.

This month, the Jackson County Budget Committee approved raises for elected officials and the action against Arrasmith. The committee is made up of three county residents plus the three-member Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners must give final approval for the salary changes plus a $573.8 million Jackson County budget before the new budget goes into effect at the start of the coming fiscal year in July.

Arrasmith currently makes an annual salary of $124,966.40. After being knocked down a pay grade but gaining the cost-of-living raise, he will earn $123,884.80 — a net reduction of $1,081.60.

To remove politics from the equation and make raises fair and predictable, elected officials move through a series of six raises as they gain experience on the job — unless there are performance-based problems for denying a raise, said Craig Morris, a citizen member of the Budget Committee.

“In the case of the assessor, there have been a series of problems in almost each year of the assessor’s tenure,” Morris said.

Most recently, Arrasmith signed off on the accuracy of the county’s tax rolls, even though his office listed 162 manufactured homes as destroyed by the 2020 Almeda fire. Those homes are still standing.

The error was discovered when a title company tried to process a property transaction — not by Arrasmith informing other county leaders of the problem, said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

The error meant tax districts such as Jackson County Fire District No. 5 didn’t receive almost $50,000 in tax revenue, according to a timeline of errors in the assessor’s office going back to when Arrasmith took office in 2017. He was reelected in 2020.

Arrasmith said his office zeroed out the value of homes in damaged manufactured home parks, but planned to go back and fix records on homes that survived the fire. However, he said the tax roll certification deadline came before his office finished the task.

Arrasmith said he thinks his office handled the issue correctly with the staffing he has and the game plan they set out. He said he doesn’t think his workers are overburdened.

“They would say we have a plan and we’re on target. They’re feeling no stress,” he said.

The Budget Committee has raised concerns since the Almeda and South Obenchain fires of 2020 that Arrasmith doesn’t have a plan for handling the added workload on his office caused by the fires. In addition to their regular duties, workers have to correctly reassess the value of thousands of destroyed homes and buildings, then assess them again as they rebuild.

Jordan said Arrasmith hasn’t asked for more workers to help handle the extra burden, unlike other impacted departments such as the Development Services Department.

Past errors in the tax assessor’s office have led to headaches for taxpayers and an extra workload on other county departments, including the Finance Department. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, two errors led to 91,400 taxpayer accounts having to be corrected.

The 4.13% cost-of-living raise for all Jackson County elected officials mirrors cost-of-living raises going to county managers and other employees not represented by unions.

Jordan said the county settled on that figure in late 2021, before inflation spiked even higher.

The United States inflation rate jumped to 8.5% in March as everything from the price of gas to the price of groceries rose. The Consumer Price Index is at a four-decade high, according to economists.

If the county budget wins final approval, the authorized salary for Jackson County commissioners Rick Dyer and Colleen Roberts will rise from $131,185.60 to $136,593.60 with the cost-of-living raise. Both are in their second term in office and at the ceiling for raises based on experience.

County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer, who is serving his first term, will see his pay rise from $107,952 to $117,977.60 once the summer cost-of-living raise and winter raise for experience go into effect.

All the commissioners said they plan to accept the raises.

For her first four years in office, Roberts protested commissioner salaries by taking a reduced salary of about $68,000 after campaigning on a pledge to take less money. In her reelection campaign, she let voters know she would start taking the full salary if reelected, and voters backed her for a second term.

In 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roberts voted in the minority against pay raises for elected officials. Although she could have taken a cost-of-living raise, she said she refused the extra money out of concern for businesses struggling with COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the state.

With the economy rebounding and restrictions lifted, Roberts said she voted with the rest of the Budget Committee this month for elected official pay raises and will take the cost-of-living raise this summer.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler, County Clerk Chris Walker and District Attorney Beth Heckert are at the ceiling for pay raises for gaining experience.

With cost-of-living raises, Sickler’s salary will rise from $153,504 to $159,848 and Walker’s pay will increase from $105,268.80 to $109,616.

The state government pays the majority of Heckert’s salary, as it does for other district attorneys. The county’s share of Heckert’s salary will grow from $30,721.60 to $37,731 because of the 4.13% cost-of-living raise plus an 18% raise to lift her to the pay of comparable positions in Oregon. The county occasionally adjusts pay to keep compensation in line with market forces.

County Surveyor Scott Fein’s salary will increase from $105,268.80 to $115,190.40. He’s getting a cost-of-living raise, a raise for gaining experience and another raise to recognize the responsibilities of his office.

Surveying is necessary to establish accurate property lines and for projects such as building subdivisions. The county surveyor’s office duties include doing surveys, keeping public records of surveys done by governments and private industry, and maintaining markers out on the land necessary for survey work.

The Justice of the Peace position is currently filled by an interim appointee with a salary that will grow from $91,832 to $95,617.60 with the cost-of-living raise. The salary will be knocked down to $74,880 in January 2023 when a newly elected justice takes office and starts at square one of the pay ladder for the position.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.