With a general feeling that the elected officials of Palo Alto County are overdue for a raise in salaries, the Palo Alto County Compensation Board voted unanimously to recommend a raise of 3.6 percent for the elected officers of county government. The recommendation came following the annual meeting of the Compensation Board Monday afternoon, Dec. 19 at the county courthouse.
John Spies was elected the chair of the board by the membership and asked for the feelings and thoughts of the seven-member group, which is appointed with one representative of each office, with a second representative for the Board of Supervisors,
Ned Munn, representing County Recorder Bonnie Whitney, opened the discussion by pointing out that there had been two years of no increases and a 3.5 percent increase recommendation last year, but the county supervisors lowered the recommendation to one and a half percent. "Social Security just announced a raise of 3.6 percent last week, maybe that's something to think about."
Howard Garton of West Bend, representing County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker, noted that from 2008 through 2011, the average raises given to the elected officials amounted to 50-cents per day. "That figures out to a total of $731 per person from 2008 to 2011fifty cents a day. That's not very much."
"I think they need a little raise," agreed Francis Schealler of Graettinger, one of two representatives of the Board of Supervisors.
"The national economy is not that good yet, but the farming economy has been good," noted Allen Stangl of Ayrshire, the other Supervisor representative. "But, not all people are farmers. I guess I think at some point, we have to set an example."
Newly appointed member Fred Perkins of Emmetsburg, representing County Attorney Lyssa Henderson, explained he had been asked to suggest a four percent raise, citing increases ranging from one and a half percent in Emmet County to a six percent increase in Buena Vista County for officials.
"Social Security did rise 3.6 percent," Spies acknowledge, in his position as Sheriff Dennis Goeders' representative. "The Cost of Living is a real figure. Our Supervisors have not always gone along with what has been suggested."
"It would seem to me that in fairness to the people, there has to be some raise," added John Brown, representing County Auditor Gary Leonard.
The elected officials were offered an opportunity for comments, and offered their views on the topic.
"I appreciate what was said about setting an example," noted Treasurer Mary Hilfiker. "I supported that idea completely. In 2008-09, the elected officials got a 2.5 percent raise and the city gave a 3.25 percent. In 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the elected officials received zero and the city gave 2.5 percent. This year, the officials received 1.5 percent and the city gave three percent. Our hopes of being an example for other entities were basically kicked in the shorts."
Hilfiker continued, "This year, my feeling is that I'm not a proponent of a zero percent raise. At 50-cents a day, we all offer services worth way more than that. But, whatever you people feel is appropriate will be greatly appreciated."
Recorder Bonnie Whitney agreed with Hilfiker. "We tried to set an example and other places didn't follow it."
"The cost of living has gone up, and the Board of Supervisors have been very adamant about cutting budgets and keeping our costs down," added Attorney Lyssa Henderson.
"In net pay, I'm almost $500 behind what I made three years ago," commented Sheriff Dennis Goeders. "I'm moving backwards on my net pay. I'd just be happy with a cost of living increase."
"I sense you guys are moving in the right direction," noted Supervisor Leo Goeders. "Personally, I was thinking around two percent, because the times just aren't all that great yet. Compared with what the city is doing, two percent isn't bad."
Supervisor Ed Noonan pointed out that in the discussions, the cost of health insurance wasn't being mentioned. "Along with that fifty cents a day, that's not a bad benefit. A lot of counties have their employees pay for insurance and we don't."
"It seems like we always focus on salaries to save money, but there are other areas where we could cut expenses," Hilfiker noted.
"That's a good point," Stangl agreed. "If you cut expenses, then salary increases make a lot of sense."
"If we keep increasing salaries, then we may have to start passing the cost of insurance on to the employees," noted Supervisor Jerry Hofstad. "I don't think that we should get an automatic raise every year. I ran for this job knowing the salary and that was OK with me."
"At some point, somebody's got to get on top of this," Stangl said. "The federal government just keeps on giving raises and look at that mess."
Whitney pointed out that the state government was continually requiring counties to do more things that had to be paid for by the counties.
"We have more functions from the state that are being handed down to the counties," agreed Hilfiker.
"The same thing is happening from the federal level to the state, and that's the whole problem," Stangl said. "Someone's got to get on top of this mess, otherwise the country's going to go broke."
With no other comments, Ned Munn moved to recommend an increase of 3.6 percent for elected official salaries to mirror the Social Security increase. John Brown offered a second and the motion received unanimous approval.
The recommendation goes to the Board of Supervisors, who, by law, may approve the recommendation, lower the recommendation by an equal amount, or choose to grant no increases. However, the Supervisors cannot raise the salary over the Compensation Board recommendation.