Monroe County commissioners could get higher pay, but maybe not the $67,158 they think is right

If Monroe County councilors approve some kind of increase to county commissioner compensation before the end of the year, it might not be as much as the commissioners have requested.

That’s the basic picture after about an hour of discussion at the county council’s regular meeting on Tuesday.

The already-adopted salary ordinance for 2022 specifies $48,886 for each of the three commissioners, which is $2,886 more than the amount they were paid in 2021.

The commissioners have requested that the 2022 salary ordinance be amended so that their compensation is increased to $67,158, to match the compensation for some other elected county officials: assessor, recorder, and treasurer.

The increase would also bring Monroe County commissioner compensation in line with that of some other comparable counties in the state, which average $64,463 for commissioner pay.

At a work session next week, the Monroe County council will take a vote on the increase, possibly amended to reflect a lower amount than the figure that’s been requested.

At Tuesday’s meeting, councilor Geoff McKim told his county council colleagues that he thinks commissioners are underpaid.

But McKim does not think the right level for commissioner compensation is the full amount they have requested. So at next week’s work session, he’ll be proposing an amendment to the amount. But on Tuesday he was not sure what the exact dollar figure in his amendment would be.

Among the other county councilors on Tuesday, there did not seem to be any discernible support for an increase exactly along the lines that the commissioners are requesting.

A half dozen people spoke during public commentary at Tuesday’s meeting, all in support of increasing the compensation for commissioners, possibly even to a level higher than they have requested.

Speaking in support of higher compensation during public comment time were Van Buren Township trustee Rita Barrow, and two county planning commissioners—Margaret Clements and Dee Owens.

Also speaking in support of more compensation for county commissioners were the leaders of two local nonprofits—Cindy Chavez (Pantry 279) and Forest Gilmore (Beacon, Inc.).

During public commentary, Sarah Ryterband, who’s a member of the policy committee of the Bloomington-Monroe County metropolitan planning organization (MPO), suggested a comparison between the city of Bloomington executive and the three county commissioners.

If the mayor and deputy mayor’s salary were added together and divided by three, Ryterband’s arithmetic worked out to $77,550 for each county commissioner. That’s about $10,000 more than the commissioners are requesting.

Ryterband’s point is based on the idea that the executive branches of city and county government should be paid at comparable levels.

The idea that the commissioners play an executive role in the county was a highlight of the slide deck presented on Tuesday by president of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas.

The appropriate description of the role that county commissioners play in county government was a sore point, because the county council had tied the 2022 compensation for commissioners to a PAT position (professional, administrative, and technical) on a new salary grid, instead of a higher-paid EXE (executive) position.

The grid was recommended by Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates (WIS) as a part of their review of county compensation and adopted by the county council.

On Tuesday, councilors were uniform in their acknowledgement that it had been a mistake to tie the compensation for commissioners to a PAT position in the grid. The connection was made as an “administrative aid,” councilor Cheryl Munson said. Munson added, “I’m not sure that it is necessary to place elected officials within a grid system, in any case.”

About the PAT job classification, council president pro tempore Kate Wiltz said, “I also personally apologize for any offense on the grid classifications.” Wiltz continued, “I was not anticipating that those were as meaningful to the elected officials as they were.” Wiltz added, “So, I would like to scrap those classifications, and take a new look and see, do we need classifications [for elected officials]?”

Councilor Hawk noted that county councilors themselves were tied to a classification on the grid called labor, trade and crafts (LTC), which was also not accurate.

Some of the discussion on Tuesday related to the fact that the $46,000 commissioners were paid in 2021 reflected a $10,000 increase from the previous year. Commissioners had asked last year for an increase up to $60,000.

McKim rejected the idea that the issue should be framed in terms of percentage increases from year to year, because it’s a structural adjustment to pay. McKim put it this way: “So I’m not going to look at this as: How much of an increase should we give the commissioners from last year to this year?”

Last year, McKim had called the $10,000 increase a “downpayment” on a future increase. That’s a phrase that commissioners have cited this year in support of their current request. But McKim said on Tuesday he doesn’t think that wording supports their request for an additional $18,000 in compensation. “In what world is a downpayment followed by an even bigger downpayment?” he asked.

When it comes to choosing comparable counties to judge commissioner compensation, McKim wondered why Vanderburgh, Hendricks and Delaware were not included along with the six chosen by WIS (Allen, Elkhart, Hamilton, Lake, Tippecanoe and Vigo).

County Commissioner Compensation
Allen $79,317
Elkhart $53,376
Hamilton $62,206
Lake $67,256
Tippecanoe $64,046
Vigo $60,579
Mean of 6 $64,463
Delaware County $31,983
Hendricks County $45,443
Vanderburgh County $35,199
Mean of 9 $55,489

Those three counties would be reasonable to include, based on population and degree of urbanization, McKim said. And if their numbers were thrown into the mix, the average pay for commissioners in comparable counties would drop from about $64,000 to $55,000. That’s still more than the $48,886 in the current 2022 salary ordinance, McKim noted. [Google Sheet of County Salary Comparisons]

Any change to the 2022 salary ordinance next week would need at least four votes to pass.

Wiltz did not sound enthusiastic about bumping the commissioner compensation now for implementation in 2022. Wiltz said she knows that by not changing the salary ordinance now for 2022, it would mean waiting until 2023 to implement any major adjustment to commissioner compensation. But she said, “I currently feel like I need more information. And I’m not entirely confident I’ll have it in the next week.”

Councilor Trent Deckard clarified during Tuesday’s meeting that he did not find the jump from $48,886 to $67,158 to be an easy one to make. “I want to be clear, that is a dramatic, difficult amount for me.” He added, “That is a dramatic amount that I am struggling mightily with.”

Munson said she couldn’t ignore the fact of the previous year’s $10,000 increase. She also said at the time she didn’t think $10,000 would be the only substantial increase for the commissioners.

Munson talked about the increase from $46,000 to $48,886 that is in the already-adopted 2022 salary ordinance. This year, Munson said, when many county electeds did not receive a large increase in their salary, “It did not seem out of order to me that the commissioners salary was only being raised 6.3 percent.”

Councilor Peter Iverson did not signal how he was leaning on the question of a compensation increase, except to say that he agreed that the job classification (PAT vs EXE) for commissioners is an issue that should be reviewed.

A new county councilor will be picked by the Democratic Party caucus next Sunday (Dec. 19), to fill the currently vacant seat left by Eric Spoonmore’s resignation. The new councilor could be counted as an unknown vote.

Hawk told her colleagues she won’t be in attendance at next week’s meeting—her daughter is visiting for Christmas for the first time in 10 years.

One thought on “Monroe County commissioners could get higher pay, but maybe not the $67,158 they think is right

  1. Will Commissioners leave their other jobs? Running the county is a misnomer. Much of the county is run by separately elected officials

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