On Tuesday night, Monroe county councilors stood by the compensation for the three county commissioners that they had already approved on the last day of November as a part of the 2022 salary ordinance.
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.
Getting support from none of the six councilors present on Tuesday was a request from commissioners to increase their pay to $67,158, to match the compensation for some other elected county officials: assessor, recorder, and treasurer.
Commissioners Julie Thomas and Penny Githens attended Tuesday’s meeting to plead their case again, after presenting their arguments a week ago. Their request was based on the principle of pay equity, and the fact that they work full time as executives.
Thomas invited councilors to think about the difference in pay between commissioners and other electeds over a five-year period. “You take the $20,000 pay differential between a commissioner and another elected, like the assessor, the treasurer, or recorder. Then every five years you are paying your commissioners $100,000 less,” Thomas said.
Thomas continued, “Let that sink in a moment. That is a big number.”
One person spoke on the topic during public commentary—in support of the request from the commissioners. Ellen Siffin said, “No offense to anybody here tonight, but a lot of people just in conversation have spoken to me, and they don’t understand why—and neither do I—why it’s such a big deal. Not to give the commissioners pay equity—they don’t get it.”
Councilor Peter Iversen, who had been reticent when the council deliberated on the question a week ago, was clear on Tuesday night.
Where Iversen stood was apparent when he led off by describing a $13,000 increase that commissioners were receiving. To get to $13,000, he was including the increase that was approved between 2020 and 2021, which was about $10,000.
Iversen then left no doubt about how he’d be voting, when he said, “Tonight, I address the second reading of this request with my conviction that resource concentration for the politically powerful is neither just, nor an appropriate role for a fiscal body to serve the people.”
The county council is the fiscal body for county government.
Iversen added, “Spending so much time talking about additional compensation for the most politically powerful diverts the conversation from crucial topics. And indeed, these are the topics that define the role of governments to service residents and not those in political power.”
A kind of compromise offered by Geoff McKim went nowhere with the five other councilors who were present. (Marty Hawk was absent—she’d told her colleagues last week she would not be attending this week’s session.)
Based on sentiments expressed up to that point, it was pretty clear none of the councilors were inclined to support a big salary increase for the commissioners. But McKim moved an amendment that would have reduced the amount from $67,158 to $58,000 per year.
McKim’s motion died for lack of a second. McKim voted against the unamended proposal to increase commissioner compensation.
McKim’s case for further increasing the salary of commissioners was based on the idea that the position of county commissioner is still, at least to some degree, under-compensated, based on every analysis the council had seen.
That includes an analysis of comparable counties done by Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates (WIS) as a part of their review of county compensation and adopted by the county council.
At last week’s meeting, when the change to the 2022 salary ordinance got a first reading, McKim wondered why Vanderburgh, Hendricks and Delaware were not included along with the six chosen by WIS (Allen, Elkhart, Hamilton, Lake, Tippecanoe and Vigo).
|Mean of 6||$64,463|
|Mean of 9||$55,489|
Those three counties would be reasonable to include, based on population and degree of urbanization, McKim said last week. 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]
To get to his proposed number of $58,000, McKim drew from to the WIS job classification grid, saying that the levels for EXE (executive) positions in the grid set a kind of “floor” of a little more than $55,000 for what county commissioners should be paid.
Councilor Jennifer Crossley, who was chosen at Sunday’s Democratic Party caucus to replace Eric Spoonmore, abstained from the vote, noting that she’d been serving a little more than two days.
Crossley said, “Do I believe in pay equity? I one-hundred-percent definitely do.” She added, “I do not feel comfortable, nor do I feel that it is appropriate for me [to vote], just being a couple of days in, without doing some more extensive research.”
Councilor Trent Deckard drew on the historical pattern of commissioner pay, which has seen increases in recent years.
Deckard also pointed out that two of the current commissioners had previously served on the county council, in years when commissioners were compensated at much lower levels than they are now. (Julie Thomas and Lee Jones both previously served on the county council.)
Deckard said he was not trying to say that commissioners should be grateful for the pattern of increases in compensation over time. “My point is that we can’t negate the history,” Deckard said.
Councilor Kate Wiltz pointed out that among the bigger set of counties that WIS had initially considered, the average commissioner compensation is lower than for Monroe County. Wiltz allowed that some of the counties in that initial set weren’t good for comparison.
But even among the smaller group of counties, Wiltz said the pattern was: They do not pay their commissioners the same amount as they do their highest-paid elected officials. About that pattern, Wiltz said, “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just a big ole mistake.”
Wiltz said, “I don’t feel that we can in good faith represent the people of Monroe County and grant a raise beyond what we’ve offered for 2022 already.”
The topic is not off the table next year for the 2023 salary ordinance. “I do commit to looking at this in 2022,” Wiltz said.
Also making clear that her vote on Tuesday against the increase not did not mean it was off the table for good was councilor Cheryl Munson. She reported, “I have heard from too many concerned citizens in this county, who are perplexed by this issue of pay equity and raising the commissioners’ salary. To me, they say: Please just say no, this doesn’t seem right to us.”
But Munson said those residents had not studied the issue in the same way that the county council had. Munson wondered, “What is the best way to achieve [pay equity]? … I don’t think I am comfortable in knowing what is the best way.” Munson continued, “And until I have a good sense of what the best way is, I’m going to postpone any decision on this matter.”
Munson added, “For the time being, I will say no tonight, and deal with this next year.”