The Gallatin County Commission plans to raise county wages for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Commissioners intend to give elected officials, including themselves, a 3.5% pay increase.

The increase would also affect sheriff’s deputies, who would receive a 4.5% pay increase because they are paid a percentage of the elected sheriff’s salary and because they receive a 1% increase for each year they work in the office.

The increase in elected officials’ and deputies’ salaries would cost about $242,000, which commissioners said means there will be other things they won’t have funding for next year.

“We don’t have a bottomless pot of money. We have certain needs we have to fund and some of those needs are dire,” Commissioner Don Seifert said. “This isn’t free money. It’ll have a cost.”

This fiscal year, elected officials received a 5% pay increase, which brought their base salary to $71,870. Most elected officials make more than the base salary.

The county commissioners also are considering giving classified employees — who are often paid hourly and make up nearly half the county’s workforce — a 2.5% pay increase. They could also receive a merit increase of about 2%. This would bring their pay increase in line with that for sheriff’s deputies.

This year, classified employees received a 6% raise.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said the pay increase is essential because the county has several open positions. In his office, he said, he has been unable to hire two legal assistants because qualified candidates received better job offers elsewhere. He added that filling vacancies is necessary to keep up with increasing workloads, which stem from the county’s rapid population growth.

Sheriff Brian Gootkin said over the last few years, he has seen a rising number of deputies leaving for other jobs because they can no longer afford to live and work in Gallatin County. As employees leave, he said the county loses valuable experience and has to invest significant time and money in hiring and training new deputies.

“To me, it is smart money to pay (deputies) to keep them here,” he said.

Commissioners said they recognize the importance of pay increases but said the county has limited cash.

“We look at the whole budget,” said Commissioner Joe Skinner. “If we give bigger wages here to elected officials and subsequently, there are huge, important requests from other departments, we might not be able to meet them. We have to look at the big picture.”

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

Perrin Stein is the county, state and federal government reporter for the Chronicle.

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