Local government

In last-minute budgeting, Malheur County commissioners give themselves raises

VALE – Malheur County Commissioners Jim Mendiola and Ron Jacobs will get a pay raise and be eligible for health insurance in yet another last-minute budget move made by county officials.
The eleventh-hour pay boost for the two officials came in the wake of a budget decision by the Malheur County Court last month to use county money to pay off $1.3 million in debts owed by the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company set up by the county commissioners to oversee the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
That spending wasn’t in the proposed budget for the new year proposed by county officials or in the budget subsequently approved by the Malheur County Budget Committee and sent to the county court.
The pay bump for Mendiola and Jacobs also was not in the proposed budget for the new year, nor in the budget committee’s approved budget. The pay raise and a boost in official work hours for both men that made them eligible for health insurance only appeared in the adopted budget approved by the county court June 28.
The pay for Jacobs and Mendiola, who are part-time commissioners, jumped from $33,000 a year to $43,400 in the 2023-2024 budget that started July 1. That represents a 31% percent pay increase.
The last-minute budget wrangling also increased the weekly work hours though their schedules aren’t expected to change.
The proposed budget did reflect from the start a pay raise for Dan Joyce, who works full time as county judge. His pay went from $82,740 to $86,880.
Part of the raises reflected a 5% cost-of-living boost approved for all county employees.
The formal change in hours also made Jacobs and Mendiola eligible for county-paid health insurance that could cost about $13,000 over the next year.

Lorinda DuBois, county administrator, said Joyce, county judge, approached her after the budget committee meetings about the insurance matter.
“I was tasked by the judge to find a way for the commissioners to get insurance. I needed to find a way to get them insurance,” said DuBois.
The only way to do that, she said, was to increase their hours from 15 hours a week to 18.75 hours, making them eligible for the insurance.
DuBois said the request was “unusual.” DuBois said she’d never received such a request before.
Joyce said discussion about boosting compensation for part-time commissioners had been “going on for years.”
“I thought it (the increase in hours) was necessary. No. 1, the reality is they are already doing the work,” said Joyce.
He said he told DuBois that some “things needed to be adjusted.”
“But how we do it I don’t know,” said Joyce.
Joyce initially said he couldn’t remember if he brought up the pay and insurance costs during the Budget Committee meetings last April.
“There are a lot of things that are discussed. But do we remember everything that is discussed? Are you kidding me?” said Joyce.
Later he said he did tell the committee “you guys need to think about this.”
But a review of the recordings of the budget sessions contain no such remarks by Joyce or any county official.
Joyce said he felt the Enterprise’s questions about the pay raises and insurance was “practicing gotcha journalism.”
The added cost to insure Mendiola is $4,400. For Jacobs and his wife, the added cost is $9,050.
Jacobs already draws a retirement stipend of $2,185 a month through the state’s public employee retirement system. Jacobs is the former state water master for the county.
Mendiola said he wasn’t aware of the size of his pay raise.
“Lorinda told me about it, but, to be honest, I haven’t looked into it much because I’ve been so busy with the (Vale 4th of July) Rodeo,” he said. Mendiola is rodeo president.
He said he didn’t ask for a raise.
“I am happy with what I am getting now. But, if they are going to offer it, I’d be a damm fool not to cash the check,” he said.
Mendiola, who owns a rock hauling business, said he pays for his own insurance. However, he said he is interested in taking county insurance.
“I think it is better insurance than what I got. It includes vision which mine doesn’t,” he said.
Jacobs did not return a phone call for comment.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

Previous coverage:

County taps budget to pay reload debt, project on ‘short pause’

County court splits 2-1 over millions more for rail shipping project

County leaves requests for financial help for organizations and agencies in limbo