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Compensation For Office Staff

By Staff | Jan 13, 2009

There was unanimous agreement on the part of the Palo Alto County Compensation Board that the office staff members in the various offices of the Palo Alto County Courthouse do an outstanding job for the public. The issue of how to reward those deputies became a secondary topic of discussion at the annual meeting of the Compensation Board on Wednesday, Jan. 7.

With John Spies serving as chair of the meeting, each of the elected officials present was given an opportunity to speak about their offices and their work.

Palo Alto County Attorney Peter C. Hart indicated that while a cost-of-living raise would be appreciated, any raise would be appreciated.

That comment sparked the question of what the current cost-of-living (COL) was. Spies stated the current COL was two percent, while Comp Board member Howard Garton noted that back in August of 2008, the cost of living was around six percent.

“So what are we doing? Two or six percent?” asked Board member John Brown.

“Somewhere in between that,” Garton replied.

Palo Alto County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker commented on the current economic conditions. “I know it’s tough economic times for the nation. The delinquency rate for payment of taxes is up eight percent over last year at this time. I would tell you that anything you think is prudent and fair is fine with me.”

County Recorder Bonnie Whitney noted that she had a smaller staff than the other offices, but she felt the deputies in the offices deserved extra consideration. “If it weren’t for the people in our offices, we wouldn’t be as good as we are.”

Sheriff Denny Goeders agreed, and noted that the deputy sheriffs were all doing an exceptional job. “I also checked with six counties around us, three of them went from 2.3 to three to 4.5 percent for raises. Pocahontas County suggested 4.5 percent, but that has not been approved. Personally, I’d be crazy to say I didn’t want a raise, but I can live with zero. My concern is for my deputies.”

Auditor Gary Leonard agreed with Hilfiker’s thoughts, and pointed out that the secondary road workers received a 2.8 percent raise through their contract negotiations for the upcoming year.

Supervisor Jerry Hofstad noted that in comparison with the surrounding counties of Emmet, Kossuth and Pocahontas, Palo Alto County’s elected officials received salaries an average of $4,000 higher than their counterparts, and when Clay County was added into the mix, Palo Alto County’s salaries were $2,000 higher than the other counties.

“I would propose a freeze in salaries for all elected officials and department heads for at least two years,” Hofstad told the Comp Board members, “And I would like to see the deputies in the offices to receive a 2.8 percent raise.”

Supervisor Leo Goeders noted that everyone deserved some type of raise, even if just to show appreciation for their hard work. “Just a little bit would be better than nothing, otherwise, we’ll have to make up for it later.”

“Why are we here?” Comp Board member John Brown asked. “We’re here to suggest something, but they, the supervisors, will decide it in the end. They have to pay the expense. But, I think it would be a disgrace not to show them something in terms of a raise. I’ve heard 2.8 percent and that’s what I think they deserve.”

Howard Garton referred to the concern for office deputy salaries by commenting, “The question I hope the supervisors will look long and hard at is decoupling salaries from the elected office holders. Not everyone advances at the same rate. I think the deputies’ salaries should be based on merit and productivity, not just keeping the seat warm. I think ending the decoupling would be a mistake.”

“If I’m to base salaries on merit for my deputies, I have no measuring scale to use to determine that,” Hilfiker replied.

“We have great people in the court house,” stated Supervisor Keith Wirtz. “But, we need to balance the budget, too.”

“If you go back to coupling salaries, you may drive the budget too fast,” Garton warned.

Other Compensation Board members offered their thoughts at that point.

Ned Munn noted that it was the group’s duty to set a limit. “I’d look at 2.8 percent.”

Francis Schealler suggested the Board discuss set dollar amount raises for each office holders rather than percentages.

Ronnie Meyer noted the economy was tough, and that everyone knew it was tough, but offered no amount or suggestion.

“I think 2.8 percent is a good amount,” observed Bill Zeigler.

Ned Munn then moved to set a raise recommendation of 2.8 percent for the elected officials, and Garton offered a second to the motion. On a roll call vote, all members voted aye with the exception of Schealler, who voted nay. Spies declared the motion carried on a 6-1 vote.

The salary for the board secretary, Marge Schmidt, was raised $1 an hour in final action by the board before it adjourned.

The recommendations will now go to the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors for final determination. Under Chapter 331.907 of the Code of Iowa, the supervisors shall review the Compensation Board’s recommendation but may not exceed that recommendation. They may lower it by an equal percentage or grant no raises.