On the agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 14 meeting of the Monroe County council is a request from the three county commissioners to increase their 2022 salary from the amount approved two weeks earlier.
The requested adjustment to the already-approved 2022 salary ordinance would increase commissioner pay from $48,886 to $67,158. That’s about 37 percent more.
If the county council grants the request next Tuesday, that would make for about an 87 percent increase for county commissioner compensation, over the two years from 2020 to 2022.
Commissioners received a $10,000 increase from 2020 to 2021, which pushed their annual compensation from $36,000 to $46,000.
It was at former county councilor Eric Spoonmore’s final meeting, on Dec. 2, when the county council approved the 2022 salary ordinance for all county employees, on a unanimous 7–0 vote. At that meeting, commissioners voiced their objection, both to the dollar amount and the job description to which their compensation had been tied, in the county’s new compensation grid.
The dollar amount on the grid is $48,886. The amount corresponds to a 35-hour-per-week PAT position (professional, administrative, and technical) on the salary grid, instead of a higher-paid EXE (executive) position.
As board of commissioners president Julie Thomas put it on Dec. 2, “If you think that our job is a PAT D, I would like to hear about that. That’s not something that I’ve seen discussed in a public meeting.”
Thomas continued, “We are the executive and legislative branch for county government. And we should be an EXE A on this grid.” She added, “I will speak up for us because no one else is.”
At the early December meeting, the seven county councilors did not appear to be in much of a mood to deliberate on the possibility of altering the compensation for the three county commissioners.
So, when councilors voted unanimously on the 2022 salary ordinance, it seemed like commissioners would have to wait until next year to argue for a second substantial increase in their compensation.
Last year, commissioners had asked for an increase from $36,000 to $60,000. At the time, councilor Geoff McKim said his reaction had been akin to “Not only ‘No’ but ‘Heck, no!’” But McKim said he came around to the position that commissioners are underpaid.
But last year, McKim and other councilors were not willing to bring commissioners all the way to $60,000. McKim called the $10,000 increase from 2020 to 2021 a “downpayment” on another possible increase.
At the Dec. 2 meeting, Thomas cited McKim’s characterization of last year’s increase as a downpayment. “In 2020, we received an increase which we’re grateful for. But we were told that was a downpayment,” Thomas said.
The fact that commissioners were going to have another try at a salary increase for 2022, despite the Dec. 2 council vote, came to light at this week’s regular Wednesday meeting of the commissioners.
It was a routine, perfunctory agenda item, which commissioners put off until next week, that revealed that commissioners were hoping for county council action before the end of this year, that would increase their 2022 salaries.
The Wednesday agenda item was the annual meeting schedule, which reflected a weekly pattern, as it has for the last few years. Commissioner Penny Githens talked about the weekly meeting schedule as an added benefit that Monroe County commissioners provide, which commissioners in other counties do not.
“Some other commissioners meet once a month, some meet twice a month,” Githens said.
Based on her review of the meeting schedules of commissioners in other Indiana counties, Monroe County stood alone, according to Githens: “I didn’t see anybody that meets weekly the way we do. And we do that in part, so that we’re as responsive as possible to citizens and to our own departments.”
Thomas suggested putting off until the following week the vote on the annual calendar: “What I would like to do, given the fact that we’re waiting for some action by the council, I would move that we continue Resolution 2021-60 for next week’s meeting.”
Mention of a hoped-for county council action piqued the curiosity of county councilor Marty Hawk, who was watching this Wednesday’s meeting of the commissioners. At the work session convened by commissioners immediately following their regular meeting, Thomas entertained a question from Hawk.
Hawk said she’d understood the commissioners to have connected the item on their 2022 meeting scheduling to a council decision on the 2022 salary ordinance. Hawk said she wanted to make sure she understood what the commissioners meant, so she could describe it accurately for a radio interview she would be giving later that day.
Thomas told Hawk that the item on the meeting schedule had been continued until next week. About the weekly schedule Thomas said, “I think [it] helps everyone in the county, whether it be residents or county staff, because it keeps things moving pretty quickly through the chain.
Thomas added, “But it is a burden, not only on our staff to meet weekly, but it is a burden on us.” Thomas concluded, “And so, yes, it’s connected with our concerns about compensation.”
If the county council does not approve an adjustment in the 2022 salary ordinance, from $48,886 to $67,158, the commissioners seem inclined to cut back the frequency of their meetings.
The $67,158 per year that the commissioners are requesting is the same dollar figure already specified in the 2022 salary ordinance for three other elected positions: assessor, recorder, and treasurer. It corresponds to the fifth column of the grid for a 35-hour-per-week EXE A position.
The item on the county council’s agenda next Tuesday is there because the commissioners made a request for it to be added. President pro tempore of the council, Kate Wiltz, responded to a question from The B Square on Wednesday by saying she had received the request and was planning to put the item on the agenda.
When next Tuesday’s county council agenda was released on Friday, the item appeared with the following note from the commissioners:
This request is made on the basis of a need for pay equity among County leadership, recognition by Council, elected positions continue to require more and more of the elected person’s time in order to serve the community responsibly and expeditiously. Much of County Government now requires research of issues, attendance at additional meetings to hear, read/review proposals, meet with community members and contractors. As everyone is realizing, life isn’t getting easier…it is in fact harder with more expectations of individuals.
Discussion next Tuesday could include the comparisons to other counties done by Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates (WIS) as a part of their review of county compensation.
Judged by comparisons to what might be considered ‘peer’ counties—like Elkhart, Tippecanoe, Vigo, Allen, Hamilton, and Lake—Monroe County commissioners could be analyzed as underpaid. The mean compensation for county commissioners in those counties is $64,463.
If geographically proximate counties are thrown into the mix, the picture is less clear. The median salary for county commissioners in 17 counties compiled by WIS is $33,591. [Google Sheet of County Salary Comparisons]
If a vote is taken next Tuesday on the amendment to the salary ordinance and it gets majority support, but is not unanimous among the six sitting councilors, it will need a second vote at a subsequent meeting, but before the end of the year.
Spoonmore’s successor is to be chosen by a Democratic Party caucus on Sunday, Dec. 19.
If on Tuesday the request from county commissioners for more compensation gets a non-unanimous vote of approval, the second vote on that question would likely be one of the first votes made by Spoonmore’s successor.