County board freezes salaries of elected officials again for 2012

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

In an effort to continue reigning in the cost of doing business, the Houston County Board approved a motion to freeze all elected county officials’ salaries for another year.

Last year the board approved a similar motion to freeze the county sheriff, recorder and auditor’s salaries as well as county commissioners’ salaries and set the newly-elected county attorney and treasurer’s salaries. The county commissioners’ salaries have been frozen for at least the past four years.

At the Dec. 27 board meeting, County HR Director Tess Arrick-Kruger brought a wage grid for the county’s elected officials. The grid included a two percent salary increase for the five elected officials, which was the increase the board had approved for other county employees for 2012. The grid included a zero percent increase in the commissioners’ annual salary, which is $18,687.

The five elected officials and their salaries included:

• County Attorney Jamie Hammell- $86,000;

• County Sheriff Doug Ely- $81,610;

• County Auditor Char Meiners- $62,757;

• County Recorder- Bev Bauer- $57,285;

• County Treasurer Donna Trehus- $50,000.

“We’ve met with the elected officials and although I feel they are all doing a good job for the county, I question if we can do this (approve the two percent salary increase) with the year we’ve had,” Board Chairman Jack Miller said. “Have these positions all been banded? Is there a good rationale for the salaries we are paying? I’d like to have some history as to how they were set.”

Commissioner Steve Schuldt asked Kruger if the salaries of the five elected officials are comparable to other counties.

Kruger replied that it would be difficult to compare, as some counties have merged positions and the responsibilities aren’t always the same. “It wouldn’t be comparing apples to apples,” Kruger said. She added that none of the elected county officials here have salaries higher than comparable counties.

Commissioner Teresa Walter made a motion to approve the two percent raise for the five elected officials. Her motion was seconded by Schuldt.

Before the vote was taken, Commissioner Justin Zmyewski told the board his opinion on salary increases had not changed. “He had voted against salary increases during the previous month and would continue to do so.

“These are healthy salaries,” Zmyewski said. “When the medium salary in Houston County is just over $30,000 a year, I can’t support these increases. I feel we need to do some research and make sure these salaries are banded correctly. No one is starving here.”

Miller noted it was a tough call, but felt the board should follow through and treat the elected officials the same way other county employees were treated as far as salary increases.

The question was called and failed by a 1-3 margin. Schuldt voted in favor of the motion, while Miller, Walter and Zmyewski voted against it.

Walter then made a motion to deny the two percent increase. Her motion was seconded by Zmyewski and unanimously approved.

In other board action:

Compensation plan approved

The board reviewed an updated compensation plan for non-union and appointed employees.

After some discussion, it was decided to include the five elected county officials (but not county commissioners) in the compensation plan. In 2008 “elected officials” were taken out of the compensation plan.

Zmyewski stated he felt the five elected officials should be included in the plan to help provide more guidance when determining salaries.

A motion by Zmyewski and seconded by Walter to include the five elected officials into the updated compensation plan was unanimously approved.

Salary adjustments

The board approved a one-time salary adjustment of $1,500 for Carol Lapham, who has been serving as the interim county finance director and a one-time salary adjustment of $500 to Jordan Wilms, who has taken on some of the duties of that position as well.

Kruger explained that Lapham and Wilms put in additional time and took on additional responsibilities when County Finance Director Casey Bradley resigned earlier this year. The county has saved considerable money by not having Bradley’s salary.

Jail staffing

The board accepted the resignation of jailer John Prill effective immediately. The board also approved changing the status of jailer Bruce Muenkel from probationary to regular and from half time to full-time status.

Sheriff Doug Ely told the board he would like to make a presentation in the near future on possibly housing female inmates in the jail. With the departure of Prill, the necessary staffing might be feasible.

Medical examiner contract

The board approved the renewal of a contract with Regina Medical Center, located in Hastings for medical examiner support and morgue facilities services. The cost per year is about $50,000, depending on how many cases are sent to the medical examiner.

Houston is one of eight counties in Southeast Minnesota that contract these services from the Hastings facility.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]