Compensation Board Urges Salary Hikes Averaging $100 weekly

County elected officials would get a raise of about $100 weekly while first deputies in each office would get about $80 more weekly under a compensation package the seven-member County Compensation Board will be recommending to county supervisors.

A number of “firsts” came out of  Monday night’s meeting. Among them:

• It was the county compensation’s shortest meeting on record;

• A county supervisor (Phil Clifton) asked for a raise, saying the county supervisor workload “has drastically increased” over the past few years;

• Elected officials called upon the county attorney to pitch a proposal to the compensation board;

• County elected officials asked for a specific dollar amount, rather than seek a “salary adjustment” to be recommended by the panel;

• Separate salaries would be created for the county auditor, county treasurer and county recorder;

• It is the first time that county elected officials, and key department employees, would receive what is considered as the state “average pay” for the position.

Shortest meeting in history

The meeting lasted just over 30 minutes. In years past, the board had met for an hour or more trying to come up with a recommendation for a salary increase. 

Some years the panel would go through each office individually. Each of the county elected officials has an advocate, selected by the elected official. County supervisors have two advocates, while each of the other five elected officials have one advocate apiece, creating a seven-member board.

Until recent years, the treasurer, auditor, and recorder have always drawn the same dollar amount in salary. Officials went away from that two years ago, when then-county auditor Heidi Burhans asked for a higher compensation package for the auditor’s office, saying “all county business comes through the county auditor’s office”.

Under the proposal, which is aligned with FY 2020 salaries provided by the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) as a resource, Madison County elected officials would receive the same amount as each of the state averages for the office.

The state average argument was made since Madison County now ranks 46th in population among the 99 counties. Madison County has an estimated population of just over 16,000 people.

Salaries for Madison County elected officials

Note: key personnel in each county department (first deputies) are paid 80 percent of what the county elected official makes, while second deputies receive about 60 percent.

 

Supervisor Phil Clifton was the first to make a pitch for an increased salary – almost unheard of from a county supervisor – since the three-member board of supervisors craft the county budget each year, and officials traditionally have been modest about what they are paid, and tend to pull back somewhat from any compensation board salary increase recommendation.

Clifton was not bashful about asking for more pay.

“I think fair compensation is reasonable to ask for,” he said. “I think we should be at ‘an average’.”

Referring to ISAC figures, Clifton said “several [county supervisor] boards draw much higher salaries than we do.”

After Clifton made his money pitch, county recorder Lisa Smith announced that county attorney Matt Schultz would be the spokesperson for all elected officials: the county attorney, the county auditor, the county treasurer, the county recorder and the county sheriff.

Schultz began by pointing out that the county population ranks 46th of the 99 counties, which is arguably the state average population.

“We believe we are excellent,” Schultz said, “but we’re paid below average.”

Saying that a better job is just “a drive away”, Schultz said “nothing would prevent us or our staff from leaving.”

“We’re asking that you consider paying us the average salary.”

Historical progression

The compensation board has been eyeing state average salaries for the better part of the last decade. And of course, county elected officials – particularly those in the auditor’s office, the recorder’s office and treasurer’s office – have been quick to point out how woeful Madison County salaries have been compared to their counterparts across the state, especially since Madison County’s population has been running about 49th in the state. For years, county elected official salaries historically ranked in the lower one-third of state salaries when compared statewide.

Case in point: Last year, a Madison County supervisor’s salary ranked 56th in statewide, factoring in a 1.19 percent pay boost on July 1, 2019. The County attorney’s salary ranked 40th; the county auditor’s salary ranked 68th; the county recorder’s salary ranked 64th, the county treasurer’s salary ranked 67 while the county sheriff’s salary ranked 69th.

The county compensation board has been recommending higher and higher salary increases each year, trying to at least approach the state average. But, since all other counties are raising salaries, Madison County officials have been taking increasingly modest steps trying to approach an average pay. 

Last year, both the county treasurer and the county recorder got a 3 percent pay boost, the sheriff got a 2.88 percent pay bump, the county attorney received a 3.79 percent increase in pay. The county auditor meanwhile, just one year after that office’s pay was separated from the standard “same pay” strategy shared by the treasurer/auditor/recorder, received a 1.87 percent pay increase.

Of course, none of that maneuvering factored in, or could begin to factor in, any pay increase to an elected official’s new salary in another county.

The compensation board was quick to embrace the proposal, especially since they didn’t have to sit down with calculators, a spreadsheet, or a cellular phone to come up with an appropriate pay recommendation.

“This is a culmination of what we’ve been trying to do for five years,” said compensation board chairman Dan Evans. “To me, this is what we’ve been working for.’

Evans stressed the duties of a compensation board member: to be an advocated for an elected official.

“We’re not here to be stewards of taxpayer dollars ... we’re here to pay them fairly.”

Vernon Geiger says it’s doubtful the county will actually succeed in having the state average pay for its elected officials, provided county supervisors sign onto the play in next year’s budget.

“Even if we do this, we’ll be 2 percent behind,” he said.

“We’ve finally begin to whittle away” at the spread between Madison County elected official’s salaries and the state average.

Seven-member comp board

The county compensation board has seven members.

Each year, the board elects a new chairman. This year, Dan Evans was elected chairman. He is an advocate for county auditor’s office.

Former county sheriff Paul Welch is the advocate for county sheriff Jason Barnes; while Patty Weeks – who retired from the county assessor’s office – is the advocate for County Treasurer Jana Corkrean. (It was the second consecutive year Corkrean has not attended a compensation board meeting).

The county recorder’s office advocate is Terri Kuhns, while Earlham banker Vernon Geiger represents the county auditor’s office.

Former county supervisor Joan Acela had been representing the county supervisor’s office, as had retired veterinarian Robert Newton.

Newton went off the board, but no one has been appointed to replace him. Acela, meanwhile, was replaced by Derek Bolles, a relative newcomer to Madison County (eight-year resident) and retired military.

Reporter at the Winterset Madisonian. He has also been the managing editor at the Madisonian.