There was no disagreement that the elected officials in Palo Alto County do and outstanding job for the taxpayers. Members of the Palo Alto County Compensation Board met Monday afternoon and on a split vote, voted to recommend a raise of three percent for the elected officials in fiscal year 2013-14.
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 by the elected office holders.,
Ned Munn, representing County Recorder Bonnie Whitney, opened the discussion by noting Social Security had announced a 1.7 percent increase in benefits, as well as the fact that some governmental units were talking about 3.0 percent increases to salaries.
Spies asked what the current cost of living increase had been set at, and Munn answered that 3.2 percent seemed to be the figure.
Francis Schealler, representing the Board of Supervisors, noted that 1.7 percent seemed to be fair, but pointed out that after the supervisors had granted 1.5 percent raises the previous year, that amounted to only about 33 cents per day for the officials.
Allen Stangl, the second representative of the Supervisors, thought otherwise. "We need to start holding the line on these expenses. The county paying 100 percent of the healthcare coverage for employees I can't believe that. I've never lived in that kind of world. To me, you have to figure that as a part of a salary."
"We are just to set a limit for a maximum a mount that can't be exceeded," Munn said. "The Supervisors have to decide what they can do when they do their budgeting."
John Brown, representing Auditor Carmen Moser, asked Supervisor Ron Graettinger what Supervisors were paid, and how many hours they worked for that salary.
"We get $24,000," Graettinger answered. "But the hours, that's hard to say. Sometimes you work 30 hours or more with all the meetings we have to go to and then sometimes there's less. It all averages out."
Newly appointed member Laura Petersen, representing County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker, noted that salaries locally appeared to be in the middle of the road with other counties. "I'd like to see our treasurer at least at the state average."
"I'm wondering how many counties pay 100 percent of the health insurance for their employees?" Spies asked Sheriff-elect Lynn Schultes, whom he represents.
"According to what I've found, 70 counties pay the full cost of employee health insurance," Schultes answered.
With that, Spies asked the office holders for any comments. Auditor Carmen Moser commented that any raise the Compensation Board felt appropriate would be greatly appreciated.
County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker wondered if the public really knew and understood what the officers did in their jobs. "Until you walk in someone else's shoes, its hard to know what their job is like. To me, the question that always comes to mind when you talk about cutting expenses is 'Why always start with the staff level?'" Hilfiker said. "I think we all can look at other areas and other ways to cut expenses."
Hilfiker concluded, "I'm game for and I appreciate anything you folks recommend."
Stangl asked Hilfiker if she could give any examples of additional budget cutting areas. "I agree in not always cutting the staff salaries to save money."
"If every department head would look long and hard at their own budget area," Hilfiker said. "Maybe its cutting office supplies, maybe not doing remodeling in an office, something like that."
"I just wish that the employees had to pay part of your health insurance," Stangl said. "It's too big of a cushion not to be considered part of your salaries."
Supervisor Ron Graettinger explained that because of the insurance coverage, salaries were lower because of that tradeoff. "The health insurance isn't as high-priced in this county as it is in others, and that's because we've partially self-funded it over the last few years and saved a lot of money from that."
"Our elected officials also don't come before us with inflated budgets, either," Graettinger continued. "They all cut as much as they can and it shows."
"Being that I have not even taken office yet, it wouldn't be right for me to come in and ask for any kind of raise," Lynn Schultes told the group. "But, I don't want that to affect the employees in the sheriff's office, because they are all very deserving."
Both County Recorder Bonnie Whitney and County Attorney Lyssa Henderson stated they would be most appreciative of anything the group was willing to propose.
"This is the hardest part of my job," said Supervisor Ed Noonan. "All of these people do a fantastic job for the taxpayers, and I've come to appreciate them more and more each day since I took office. But, I also have to answer to the taxpayers to keep expenses low. So, whatever you folks offer as a recommendation, I will consider it when the time comes to set the salaries."
With that, Spies called for a motion.
"I would move to set a limit of a three percent raise for the elected officials of Palo Alto County," Ned Munn said. John Brown offered a second to the motion, but in the voting, Stangl, Schealler and Spies voted nay, while Munn, Brown and Petersen voted aye, leaving the deciding vote to Fred Perkins, representing County Attorney Lyssa Henderson. "I vote aye," Perkins said, breaking the tie and passing the motion on a 4-3 vote.
In final action, the board raised the salary of secretary Marge Schmidt by $1 per hour to a wage of $16 per hour.
The recommendation goes to the Board of Supervisors, who may approve the recommendation, lower the recommendation by an equal amount, or choose to grant no increases. However, the Supervisors cannot raise any salary over the Compensation Board recommendation.