County commissioners debate, then give themselves a raiseAmid all the talk about tough economic times and tight budgets, Washington County Commissioners didn’t make it easy on themselves when it came time to discuss and vote on their salaries during their Dec. 16 board meeting.
By: Scott Wente, Woodbury Bulletin
Amid all the talk about tough economic times and tight budgets, Washington County Commissioners didn’t make it easy on themselves when it came time to discuss and vote on their salaries during their Dec. 16 board meeting.
While the board voted to approved salary increases for the sheriff, chief deputy sheriff, county attorney, first assistant attorney, executive assistant to the attorney and county administrator without much public discussion, commissioners debated whether they should increase their own paychecks.
The board ultimately voted 3-1 to approve a 3.5-percent increase to the commissioners' salary in 2009 increasing annual pay from $50,930 in 2008 to $52,713 beginning Jan. 1. Commissioners Myra Peterson, Bill Pulkrabek and Dennis Hegberg voted for the resolution, Gary Kriesel voted no. Commissioner Lisa Weik, abstained.
The vote came after Kriesel earlier made a motion for the board to receive no increase in 2009. The motion failed to get a second.
Kriesel said he advocated for no raise because the board needed to demonstrate they could be leaders in “troubling times.”
“There is a lot of folks that just wish they had the ability to vote to keep their job, let alone vote to get a raise,” Kriesel said. “I think this sets the tone for the whole transparency that the citizens recognize, we recognize that these are troubling times.”
Comparing efforts to other counties
After Kriesel’s motion received no support, commissioner Myra Peterson proposed a motion to increase commissioners’ salaries by 4.5 percent, arguing that Washington County commissioners have demonstrated fiscal leadership with one of the lowest tax rates in the state, and that commissioners in other metro area counties like Carver and Scott receive higher pay for serving significantly less residents.
“We are double the residents of Scott County,” Peterson said. “Carver is about a third of our population. Quite honestly, a 4.5-percent increase is a very transparent increase.”
The motion was seconded by commissioner Bill Pulkrabek, but failed after a 2-2 vote, where Kriesel and Hegberg voted against and commissioner Lisa Weik abstained.
Peterson said that many counties across the state, like Scott and Carver, factor per diem allowances into commissioners’ salaries based on the number of meetings they attend. She said that Washington County’s salary structure was much more transparent for residents and that a 4.5-percent increase was warranted due to the fact that other counties of similar size do the same amount of work with seven commissioners.
“If I look at the kind of commitment it takes to be a commissioner, it is a full-time job,” Peterson said.
Commissioner Dennis Hegberg said he agreed with Peterson’s sentiment, but believed that a 3.5-percent increase better mirrored the 3-percent increase that is included in negotiated county employee contracts.
Last year the county commissioners voted to give themselves a 3-percent increase in pay, but had voted for no increase in past years, and as a result, dropped behind other counties in commissioner salary rankings, Hegberg said.
“It becomes almost a full-time job or we can make it a full-time job very easily,” Hegberg said.
But Kriesel maintained his opposition, saying Washington County should continue to be fiscally conservative leaders among its peers in other counties.
“I just think that we should send a clear message not only to our citizens but to the other counties that we like to compare ourselves to,” Kriesel said.
Peterson said the economy shouldn’t be the focus of the discussion.
“And I also understand that this is a tough economy,” Peterson said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is we are going to have to attract people who run for county board, recognizing that it is, in all honesty, a full-time job if you are doing your work.”
2009 salaries for leading officials in Washington County
• Commissioners - $52,713
• County Administrator –$156,065
• County Attorney - $139,755
• County Sheriff - $120,375