About four hours into a meeting last Tuesday, Monroe County council president Kate Wiltz was looking to wrap up a topic that was leftover from discussions of the 2024 budget—pay increases for elected officials.
The elected positions under discussion are: auditor, assessor, clerk, coroner, commissioners, county councilors, recorder, surveyor, and treasurer.
Wiltz announced, “I would entertain a motion on what we should do with elected officials and their chief deputies, with respect to 2024.”
In the Nat U. Hill room of the Monroe County courthouse, where the county council meets, Wiltz’s invitation was met with about 20 seconds of silence.
“All right. Wow. We have to do something,” Wiltz said.
But on Tuesday, the council left open the question of pay increases for elected officials in 2024. The topic of pay for elected officials will be taken up on the night of the county’s budget hearing, which is set for Oct. 3 at 5:30 p.m.
If the county council decides to treat elected officials like all other employees, they’ll get an 8.5-percent raise.
Even though the county council did not reach a consensus on pay increases for electeds, they did settle on an approach for some other employee categories that, until Tuesday, had been open questions.
But nothing will get a final decision until the vote to adopt the 2024 budget is taken on Oct. 17, after a first reading on Oct. 10.
Settled for now was an 8.5-percent increase for probation officers, even though up to now the council has been using 6.1 percent as a provisional number, based on a state-mandated minimum for probation officers.
Councilor Trent Deckard described probation officers as “here with us, among their neighbors, their colleagues taking care of our neighbors and colleagues.” Deckard said it’s important to treat probation officers “like they’re part of our county employee family, who administer part of state laws.” The change to an 8.5-percent increase will mean an additional $75,000 in compensation for probation officers overall.
Also settled for now was an increase from 35 hours a week to 40 hours a week for attorneys who work in the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office. They will also receive a 8.5-percent increase, in addition to the increase in hours.
About the additional $256,278 that will go into compensation for those attorneys, councilor Geoff McKim said, “It is a lot of money.” But he said it would address an inequity between county attorneys in the county legal department, who support the county commissioners and the county council, among other departments, and the attorneys in the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office.
McKim noted that the better compensation for legal department attorneys makes it possible for the legal department to poach attorneys who work in the public defender’s office, just based on better pay.
Councilor Peter Iversen said that the increased compensation means that the lowest-paid attorneys in the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s would start at $74,000, which would not put Monroe County “ahead of the pack,” but would start to make the county more competitive, he said.
The council also settled on an approach to longevity compensation that would phase out the current system. The current system has been analyzed by the county’s HR consultant as rewarding longevity twice. Under the current approach, county employees receive “step increases” after 1, 3, 8, 14, 20, and 25 years of employment. But they also receive a longevity bonus, which is paid out as a lump sum on the date of an employee’s work anniversary.
Based on Tuesday’s deliberations, the elimination of the longevity bonuses would save in the neighborhood of $1 million, Wilze said, but she does not want to “pull the rug out from under” current employees. The council settled on the idea of phasing out the lump-sum longevity bonus, so that it does not apply to new employees. The step increases will remain.
On Tuesday, county councilors mulled the idea of giving an additional flat increase, say $1,000, to jobs classified as COMOT (computer, office machine operation, technician) in the county’s salary grid. They are on the low end of the grid.
But councilors were skeptical about the way the numbers had been calculated for the projected impact of some possible scenarios with flat increases. Wiltz concluded on Tuesday, “We don’t have the information to make any calls about that.” One possibility would be to put off a decision on a flat increase for COMOT positions until after the budget is adopted, Wiltz said.
On Tuesday, by the time councilors reached the topic of compensation for elected officials, the limits of their endurance were getting tested.
In the compensation system adopted by the county council, the deputies of elected officials get 90 percent of the compensation of the elected official. Applying the 8.5-percent increase to elected officials would mean a total of $52,446 more that would go into compensation for elected officials. Adding in their deputies would add a little more than $30,000, for a total of $85,000.
Iversen briefly floated the idea of a smaller increase for county councilors, just based on his “Midwest values of humility,” But he did not advocate for that approach. Councilor Jennifer Crossley also expressed some discomfort about discussing the county council’s own salaries. She said that she was not in favor of an 8.5-percent increase for all elected officials.
In the county’s adopted compensation system for six elected officials, the assessor, auditor, clerk, recorder, and treasurer are considered to be basic full-time employees who are managing a department, and their effort is assigned at the level of 100 percent. The 100-percenters all receive the same compensation. For 2023 it is $70,516.
Compensation for other elected officials is defined in terms of some fraction of the pay received by the six 100-percenters. For example, pay for the county commissioners is calculated at 85 percent.
County councilors are analyzed at 30-percent effort. That means county councilors are paid $21,155 for 2023.
Besides 8.5 percent, the other options that the council considered were 4 percent and 6 percent. The 4-percent increase corresponds to the increase in the property tax levy for 2024. And the 6-percent figure corresponds to year-over-year inflation.
Pay for the county’s elected officials, and by definition for their deputies, will be sorted out at the county council’s budget hearing on Oct. 3. The vote to adopt the 2024 Monroe County budget is set for Oct. 17, after a first reading on Oct. 10.