By Steve Peterson
The seven-member Plymouth County Compensation Board met to consider its annual recommendation to the Plymouth County supervisors on Dec. 13 regarding elected officials’ salaries for 2014-2015.
By a 5-2 vote, elected officials such as sheriff, auditor, county attorney, recorder and treasurer will receive a 3.5 percent pay raise, and the county supervisors a 2.5 percent raise.
Voting in favor were Chad Thompson, representing Recorder Jolynn Goodchild; Bill Rosacker representing Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo; Jeremy Bunkers representing Treasurer Linda Dobson; Larry Petersen representing the supervisors and Don Konopasek representing the supervisors. Voting against the recommendation were Auditor Stacey Feldman’s representative Pam Floy and County Attorney Darin Raymond’s representative and Compensation Board Chairman John Koley.
Compensation Board members’ surveyed on a secret ballot and voted in a range of 3.5 percent to 6 percent for the elected officials and 2 to 2.75 percent for the supervisors.
Koley was expected to present the recommendation to supervisors at their Dec. 17 meeting.
Salaries for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30 are: Supervisors, $28,927.18; Sheriff, $75,864; Auditor, $53,683.68; Recorder, $53,803.64; County Attorney, $90,172.92; and treasurer, $54,163.68. With the exception of the county attorney’s request of a 5 percent raise, the elected officials asked for a 3.5 percent raise.
“I think that we should be considering their experience,” said Petersen.
“We want to get an as fair as possible raise for them (elected officials) as we possibly can,” said Koley. “All of the people who work here are dedicated public servants.”
“By comparison of other counties, we’re not that far off but we do have people who deserve the raises,” said Konopasek.
• 3.5 percent across the board;
• 3.5 percent for the elected officials group, 2 percent for the supervisors;
• 3.5 percent for the elected and 2.75 percent for the supervisors;
• 6.5 percent for the elected and 5 percent for the supervisors;
• 5 percent for the elected officials group and three percent for the supervisors;
• Elected officials 3.5, supervisors 2.5 percent; and
• Elected officials 3.75 percent and supervisors, 2.25 percent.
“I really would hate for the Board of Supervisors to cut the auditor’s raise,” said Floy.
Elected officials presented their case in person to the Compensation Board for their salary requests with specific percentages except for the supervisors who can lower their own salary up to 30 days prior to the adoption of the Fiscal Year budget deadline, which is March 15. County Attorney Darin Raymond sent his report in writing.
After elected officials’ salaries are set in the budget, employees who are full-time make between 70 to 85 percent of their department heads’ pay.
The compensation board can use comparable salaries from government as well as the private sector in making their recommendations.
“You (Compensation Board) may get flack for your decisions but it is a necessary public function — it is an important part of the process,” said Supervisor Don Kass, making the supervisors’ presentation. He noted the elected officials’ professionalism is well-known. “We don’t have near the issues of other counties due to the elected officials’ professionalism of working on a common goal to the best they can for the taxpayer.”
“Every elected official and employee of this county has a common goal,” he said. “Plymouth County, when I started as supervisor, had the ninth lowest county-wide tax rate in the state; it is now sixth. It is not due to cutting corners but the great efficiency in which the elected officials do their jobs and they are all very diligent. There is a pervasive team attitude.”
“I don’t have a figure for the supervisors’ salaries but the supervisors are wiling to accept less of an increase if other elected officials get more,” said Kass. “Consider also that we live in a tough economy and you understand the challenges that our taxpayers face. People are having a hard time making it. Both sides of the coin should be presented.”
“(The Treasurer’s Office) has collection of taxes, and we had $39 million collected in the past fiscal year with $8.5 million paid through the web site,” said Treasurer Dobson. “We handle investment of local, state and federal revenue sources of $65 million. We have the Driver’s License Service and gave 949 tests and served 6,400 customers — all in being open two-days-a-week.”
“ We handle the investment management,” she said. “We have spent the last five years catching up. I’m requesting a 3.5 percent raise. We think that is very reasonable,” said Dobson, noting the Cost of Living increase at 1.6 percent was included.
Dobson presented data about comparisons to comparable jobs in private industry, such as bank cashier, $70,000 to $100,000; and company treasurer, $60,000 to $80,000.
“Comparing Plymouth County to others who are about the same size population, Plymouth County is 25th in the state’s 99 counties for population of 25,000,” said Dobson, noting Boone County ranked 23rd and Benton County ranked 24th. “Plymouth County paid the treasurer $57,946. In Benton County, which has a little more in population, its treasurer gets $62,422; and Bremer, which is just under Plymouth’s population, its treasurer gets $58,857.”
Of a six county-area, which also included Mahaska and Sioux Counties, that Dobson mentioned, Plymouth County has the highest valuation, she told the supervisors.
“A lot of money does pass through our department. We have a lot of customers that we see two and three times a year because of when taxes are due,” said Dobson.
“It says a lot that the (treasurer’s) salary is still 7 percent below (private industry) but you’re only asking for 3.5 percent,” said Bunkers.
“Sioux County is in excess of $60,000. We should keep up with CPI and maybe a little bit more,” said Koley.
Even without the CPI, the treasurer’s salary would be 7 percent lower than the like-sized counties’ average.
Plymouth County, by far, does not have any complaints about its elected officials, said Compensation Board members.
“No one in private industry has to go through a process like this in order to ask for a raise. No one presenting these recommendations is greedy but it has to be very humbling to come before the Compensation Board in public and then the supervisors and ask for anything at all,” said Koley.
Supervisor Craig Anderson gave a similar view on the public nature of asking for a raise but cautioned every percent increase means a $27,000 cost.
“We’ve gotten by on the backs of the elected officials and they should be caught up (in pay),” said Petersen.
Auditor Stacey Feldman reported the county, while ranking 25th in population, has dropped from 25th to 28th in salary for the auditor.
“The Sioux County auditor makes $5,000 more than Plymouth County. In the past 11 years the Compensation Board’s recommendation for auditor’s salary has been accepted twice and cut nine times,” said Feldman, who is seeking a 3.5 percent raise. “In the previous 11 years the supervisors accepted the recommendation of the Compensation Board in eight years and reduced it in three.”
Plymouth County Sheriff Van Otterloo is in his 24th year and the Sheriff’s Office has a staff of 53 people with 29 full-time, 12 part-time; 13 reserve deputies; eight dive team members and a canine officer.
Its budget was $2.7 million this fiscal year, and it brought in $600,000 to the county funds, mostly from law enforcement center-jail revenue, said Van Otterloo.
New projects and efforts this fiscal year included with supervisors’ support, a new dispatcher was added to the communications center so two people are assigned at all times; a Text-A-Tip program was established; a 24-7 sobriety program is being started; a Lifesaver device program is available; the canine program continues, and more.
There were 3,000 calls for services, 1,500 ambulance calls and 400 fire calls, he said.
“Comparisons across the state can be made for sheriff. If you do that, it shows I am being compensated very well, 15th or 16th. It’s my 24th year and that speaks to why I rank that way. I don’t have any complaints there whatsoever.
“My deputies are making anywhere from 70 to 85 percent of my salary, according to my evaluation,” said Van Otterloo, adding he could live with a 2 percent raise for himself and 5 percent more for deputies but since that is not in the formula, he is asking for a 3.5 percent salary increase.
Goodchild explained the Recorder’s Office handles documents of vital records such as death, marriage, and real estate totaling $483,000 but $294,000 went to the State of Iowa per regulations.
The office also continues to offer a passport service, which is also used by surrounding counties.
Goodchild said there is a Certified Recorder program offered by the state which has been great for training.
Goodchild is seeking a 3.5 percent raise.
“Each year we get closer to the average but we would still be catching up,” said Goodchild.
County Attorney’s Request
Koley gave the presentation for the County Attorney’s Office. It was noted Raymond was the Iowa State Association of Counties president this year and has worked on policies for counties for four years.
On county insurance rates, due to a Wellness program, the county has been able to receive a discount in premiums through ISAC.
“We saved about $250,000 over the past nine years,” according to the County Attorney Report.
“Plymouth County was one of the first to go with paperless court documents. We are now in our fourth year and the project continues to be updated and is now in 25 counties,” said Raymond’s report.
Raymond is also chairman of the Plymouth County Domestic Violence Coalition; Drug Court Advisory Board; and the Plymouth County 24-7 Sobriety Program.
“The county attorney’s office is one of only five or six in the state that engages in the driver’s license reinstatement program. To date, Plymouth County has received more than $1 million from this program. We work to help restore driving privileges for those who simply owe fines.”
“I ask for a Cost of Living raise commemorate with the Midwest CPI and an additional 5 percent pay raise for recognition for outstanding achievements that I have engaged in,” stated Raymond’s report.
“A couple of years ago we had a retreat with the department heads, and it was a chance for the county to get together and to talk strategy a little bit on ideas from the county government standpoint,” said Anderson. “We had another retreat recently with ISAC and Bill Peterson of ISAC said how the county all works together. Elsewhere, county supervisors go to conferences and keep the information for themselves.”
“This is a real good county,” he said. “We have real good people.”
“Everyone in the private sector thinks they ought to get a raise but they don’t think anyone in government should get one,” said Anderson. “Ninety percent of the time I’d do this job for free. We’re not here for the money.”
“Maybe they are behind a little bit but they also have to make a living,” he said. “If the department heads get 5 percent, it trickles down. But in the private sector, someone may not get a raise or someone may get a 10 percent raise.”
“We need to have these people well-paid but the money has to come from somewhere,” said Anderson.