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‘Slight’ Increase Proposed For County Officials

By Staff | Dec 15, 2009

There was agreement from all sides that the current economic situation requires difficult decisions. With that acknowledgement, the Palo Alto County Compensation Board voted to recommend a one percent raise for the county’s elected officials following a meeting Thursday, Dec. 10 in the Palo Alto County Courthouse. John Spies was elected chair of the board and invited the county’s elected officials to offer comments to the board to start the process.

Palo Alto County Attorney Peter C. Hart noted he was very grateful to have a job, and noted that there are 56 full-time county attorneys in the state. “Currently, Palo Alto County is 47 in rank. I would ask for whatever the Compensation Board feels is appropriate.”

Palo Alto County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker addressed the current economic conditions in her remarks. “Last year, I was a strong proponent of asking for a zero percent increase. I thought that was fiscally responsible last year. I think its almost a necessity this year, based on the economy, based on the number of people coming to the treasurers’ office, and every time they come to the treasurer’s office, it costs them money, be it taxes or vehicle taxes or whatever. I agree with Peter, in the respect that that we are so lucky to be employed because many of those people who come to pay taxes no longer have that luxury…they don’t know how they’re going to pay their taxes or even renew their vehicle license. So, I would feel that was very irresponsible on my part to listen to those people and then say “oh, by the way, I think I should have a three percent increase.’ So my recommendation, my heartfelt feeling is that this is not the year to ask for an increase at all.

Recorder Bonnie Whitney echoed Hilfiker’s thoughts. “I can’t say it any more than what they have.

“Mary said it all, totally” Supervisor Leo Goeders spoke up.

“I feel the same way,” added Supervisor Keith Wirtz. “Mary said exactly how I feel.,

“I’m a guy that worked in the labor force for 20 years, and the labor force is a tough job,” County Auditor Gary Leonard noted. “These are good jobs and I’m very appreciative to have this job. I’ll go with whatever you guys think is right.

“I recognize the problem out there,” Sheriff Denny Goeders stated. “Everybody would love an increase if we could get one, but you also have to look at reality, and the reality is we have to stand still.

Spies turned to the members of the Compensation Board for their thoughts.

“I don’t think its common for the Comp Board to recommend zero,” observed Ned Munn. “I haven’t seen that.

A question was asked if the office personnel received raises in the past year. The county employees, with the exception of the elected officials, did receive raises of 2.8 percent for the current fiscal year, in line with raises given in accordance with the Secondary Road Workers’ contract.

“Historically I don’t think you’ll find a Compensation Board that said zero,” Bill Ziegler said. “There’s always been at least one percent, and that’s what I think I’m going to recommend is one percent, and if the supervisors want to freeze their salaries, then so be it.

Spies asked if that recommendation was a motion, and Zeigler replied to the affirmative.

“I’ll second that, because inflation is already starting to creep back in. Groceries are going up.” noted Howard Garton. “Even though there are other issues that didn’t get raised, as far as Social Security, inflation is starting to creep back in.

“They are freezing Social Security,” replied Francis Schealler, “Everybody’s got it tough.

“I agree with you,” Garton said. “We should recommend one percent.

Board member Ronnie Meyer expressed his thanks to the officials for their thoughts and honesty, noting that he could tell they all had the best interests of Palo Alto County at heart.

“I agree with what Mr. Ziegler and Howard said,” John Brown added.

“We have a motion and a second,” Spies said. “Any other discussion?

“The groceries are getting higher for the people without jobs, too,” Keith Wirtz observed, with Hilfiker agreeing.

“And benefits are running out,” Schealler commented, referring to jobless benefits for many laid-off workers.

“Speaking for myself, I don’t think we should press too much,” Spies said. “I agree with Bonnie and Mary. I think the mood of the county is worn and tired. But, I’ll call for the question.

In a roll call vote, Munn, Ziegler, Schealler, Garton and Brown voted aye for the motion, while Meyer and Spies cast nay votes for a 5-2 vote. Spies declared the motion carried.

“I think it’s very important to realize that the budgets that we work on here at the county level are only a piece of the puzzle of what affects the taxpayers in Palo Alto County,” HIlfiker interjected.”There’s only certain things that we have control over.

Hilfiker explained she took the figures of the total tax asking dollars from the last tax run in July of 2009, and determined what percentage of those tax dollars actually stayed with the county, and were under county control.

“We’re at the low 30 percent of what we ask for and what we need to operate,” Hilfiker said. “We’re a partner in the tax dollar asking with the hospital, with the schools and so many different entities – Iowa Lakes Community College, the cities, mental health. There’s so many things that get a piece of that pie that the county is actually on the lesser end of the spectrum.

Hilfiker concluded, “I think this is a good leadership role, maybe an example role, for some of these other entities that we’ve all got to do our part to try and hold things at an even keel instead of tax dollars rising that we don’t have any control over.

“Actually, only 34 cents of every tax dollar stays with the county,” Keith Wirtz added.

In a final item of business, the salary for the board secretary, Marge Schmidt, was raised $1 an hour in final action by the board before it adjourned.

With the recommendation of a one percent (1%) raise for the elected officials, the final decision on any raises will rest with Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors may approve the recommendation as presented, or lower it by an equal amount for all offices, but they may not exceed the Compensation Board recommendations.