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Supervisors Wrestling With Salary Recommendations

By Staff | Dec 9, 2010

Palo Alto County’s Board of Supervisors are wrestling with a tough question what to do about salaries for the county’s elected officials and employees after a meeting of the Compensation Board last week. A discussion with no decision highlighted Tuesday’s meeting of the board at the Palo Alto County Courthouse.

In last week’s Compensation Board meeting, a raise of two percent was recommended for the county’s elected officials. That recommendation was forwarded to the Supervisors, who have the final say on the salary. Under the Iowa Code, they may approve the salary, reduce it an equal amount, or vote to give no increases. However, they may not grant more of a raise than what is recommended by the Compensation Board.

Supervisor Keith Wirtz started the discussion on Tuesday. “I’ve thought about this all weekend long, and I keep asking myself, what is really right?”

Wirt stated that at this point in time, the federal government simply couldn’t continue to spend as it is. “In the meeting Friday, it was stated that our economy is pretty good. I said that I didn’t agree with that completely, because there are still a lot of people around here that are hurting and I really believe that.”

Wirtz paused. “With that said, it was also noted that the farmers had a really good year and they are going to be spending more money, and that is true too. But, I did some checking with the ASCS office to find out just how many landowners there are in the county, and we came up with about 1,900 and of that number, there are probably about 250 or so actual farmers in the county. Out of about 9,000 people, that’s not a big number. So, I guess I still don’t think that even with the good year for farmers, that the times are better for everyone.”

Pointing out that in the actual tax asking, that the county is third in line after schools and cities, Wirtz reminded his fellow board members that the county only gets 36 cents out of every tax dollar to work with to provide services.

“I really believe that the supervisors and the county employees have worked hard and long to hold the line on expenses and do the best job we could with that 36 cents we get from the tax dollar. We’re trying our hardest, but yet, other entities keep coming in to ask for more and more money that has to come from taxes and that’s just not right. I just think that everyone else needs to step up and cut back like we have.”

“People are saying that they’ve gotten no salary increases in three years,” Supervisor Ed Noonan said. “What about their insurance? Our county is one of the only ones that pays the full cost of health insurance. We’ve paid for the increases every year for the employees. To me, you have to consider that as a form of a raise.”

Supervisor Ron Graettinger reminded the board that when the county’s Secondary Road Workers Union negotiated its most recent contract, it volunteered to take a salary freeze in exchange for the continuance of insurance coverage. “But, there contract also says that if any county employees get a raise, then the road workers would get the same raise.”

“I don’t know if we can really consider the insurance as a raise. That’s why we went to self-funding, to save ourselves money in the long run, so I don’t see insurance as a major arguing point,” observed Supervisor Leo Goeders. “But, it was also said on Friday that unemployment was low in the county, and I guess I have to believe that unemployment in the county is a choice now in a lot of cases, because the federal government has made it too easy to be unemployed. There are jobs out there, maybe out of the county, but there are jobs out there.”

As the discussion about the economy and conditions affecting salaries continued, Noonan reminded the board just how acute the economy was. “Remember, we’re talking about letting Seasons Center close over $44,000,” referring to the budget woes of that organization and it’s request to the county for that amount of funding to help retire outstanding debt of the organization.

“All I know is sooner or later, this spend, spend, spend all has to stop,” noted Board Chair Jerry Hofstad.

“Over the weekend, I’ve had a lot of people say that we need to hold the line,” Noonan said. “But, I have yet to have anyone say, ‘give the officials a two percent raise.”

“Before I can vote on a raise, I need to know how much our insurance costs are going to be for next year and we don’t have that information yet,” Noonan added.

“It appears there’s not much more to do until we get the insurance information,” Hofstad said, bringing the discussion to a conclusion, “but somewhere, the entire spending train has to stop.”