With perks, County Commission job suddenly attractive


Bill Kennedy: Big shoes, with big benefits, to fill.

As was reported this morning, Denis Pitman appears to have won the race for Yellowstone County Commission, since he was well ahead of incumbent Republican Jim Reno in Tuesday’s election and there was no Democratic candidate.

The Gazette also reported that the commissioner job comes with a base salary of about $64,000. That’s not quite right—it’s closer to $68,000—but it’s pretty decent pay in Montana by any measure. However, and I think you will agree, the benefits attached to the job are at a level that most people in the private sector can only dream of.

Bill Kennedy, the only Democrat on the commission, recently announced that he will be stepping down Aug. 1 to take a new job as president and CEO of the Montana State University Billings Foundation.

It is now up to the Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee to choose three candidates to fill Kennedy’s seat until the next election. Reno and fellow Republican Commissioner John Ostlund will select one of the three candidates.

Pam Ellis, who is chairing the committee that will choose those three candidates for the Democratic Central Committee, recently emailed Kevan Bryan, Yellowstone County finance director, to ask him about the total pay and benefits package that comes with the job. Last Best News, along with other news outlets, was cc’d on Bryan’s response.

Bryan said that the current base salary for a commissioner is $66,363.35, plus $2,000, “which is a flat addition required under state law” and which does not increase. But by the time a new commissioner is sworn in, Bryan continued, the base pay is expected to increase by about 2.5 percent, for a new base salary of $72,072.

He then goes into a lengthy discussion of the “longevity component” of commissioners’ pay, but the upshot is that Kennedy, who’s been there the longest, is making $89,449.70.

Now for those benefits: “Health insurance with dental is free to the employee if he/she participates in the wellness fair testing, conducted every year. Vision is available at a nominal cost.”

Commissioners also participate in the Montana Public Employees’ Retirement System, and can choose either a “defined benefit or a defined contribution plan during the first year of employment. In rough terms, the employee pays slightly more than 8%, and the County contributes slightly more than that.”

Commissioners are also given a county cell phone, a free parking spot near the courthouse and mileage reimbursement. (No mention of office space, but it’s pretty nice, too.)

Here’s my favorite: “There is no sick or vacation policy for elected officials. They can take off whatever time they feel appropriate for whatever reason, with no impact on compensation.”

I suddenly feel a great sense of public spiritedness flooding over me. I suddenly feel like my guidance, my forward-thinking intelligence, my boots-on-the-ground experience, are just what the great county of Yellowstone needs in the next few years.

Not that I am angling for new employment. I have important work to do here. But if my county needs me, I don’t know whether I could find it within myself to say no.

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