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Voters will decide whether to create an outside commission tasked with setting county board members' salaries.

COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting in May 2020.The Washington County Board of Commissioners will let voters decide whether the county should create an outside commission tasked with determining board members' salaries.

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, July 28, commissioners approved placing a measure on the November ballot that would amend the section of the county charter that controls how commissioners are compensated for their positions.

If the ballot is approved by voters, the county would appoint a five-member salary commission that would set the salaries of the board chair and other commissioners at the beginning of every odd year.

Commissioner Roy Rogers voted in opposition to the measure.

The members of the salary commission must be qualified human resources professionals with compensation experience, the charter amendments stipulate. Members of the commission cannot be county staff or other elected or appointed county officials.

Commissioners said they proposed the measure because the current compensation method doesn't adequately account for their expanding duties in a rapidly growing county.

Compensation must be sufficient to attract socioeconomically diverse candidates to run for board positions, and the current system doesn't provide for that diversity, they said.

Currently, the county charter sets the board chair's salary at 80% of the county circuit court judge, whose salary is set by the Oregon State Legislature. The board chair currently earns nearly $118,000.

The county charter treats other commissioners' positions as part-time, setting their salaries at 40% of the board chair's salary, or just over $47,000 this year.

"They could propose less salary," county counsel Alan Rappleyea told commissioners Tuesday. "The salary commission would have to evaluate the job, the duties, the responsibilities."

The commission must document the basis of their salary decisions, but their decisions could not be overturned by the board of commissioners, Rappleyea said. The board could adopt ordinances that set additional parameters for the commission.

The board received several letters in support of the measure, including from Juan Carlos González, who represents western Washington County on the Metro Council.

The county Committee for Community Involvement, which consists of representatives from each of the county's local community participation organizations, also submitted a letter in support of the measure.

"We believe changes to the commissioner compensation are overdue," read the letter in part. "For too long, our county commissioners have been working full-time positions for part-time pay."

Bridget Cooke, director of Forest Grove-based nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, testified Tuesday in support of the measure, saying it will allow a board range of people to consider running for commissioner positions.

"You all know very well the sacrifices you have made to become an elected official," Cooke said. "Fortunately your family and financial circumstances have made that possible. For many Black, Indigenous and people of color, such a choice is beyond their reach."

Rogers voiced opposition to the measure, expressing reluctance to give an outside committee the power to change commissioners' compensation at will.

Commissioner Dick Schouten, who is retiring at the end of the year, said that by necessity, Washington County commissioners are doing more than they used to.

"We're by far the second-largest county in the state with a lot of responsibilities," said Commissioner Dick Schouten. "We have really necessarily had to up our game and our presence in Salem and the Legislature, at the Metro level. And I think that requires more presence and more energy also and more time from our board than was always possible under the present system."

Chair Kathryn Harrington said she reviewed similar commissions already set up in neighboring Multnomah and Clackamas counties.

"They have worked quite well," Harrington said.

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