To deal with state cuts, county goes after salariesFitting with the holiday spirit, Douglas County commissioners handed out decisions aplenty Tuesday, including one that may leave some county employees feeling like they got a lump of coal in their fiscal stocking.
By: Mike Enright, Alexandria Echo Press
Fitting with the holiday spirit, Douglas County commissioners handed out decisions aplenty Tuesday, including one that may leave some county employees feeling like they got a lump of coal in their fiscal stocking.
In their last meeting of the year, the county board voted unanimously to deny a requested 3 percent raise to the county’s 10 appointed department heads, and to freeze 2009 wages for all elected county officials – including board members.
“I think we all have to sit down and bite the bullet here,” Commissioner Norm Salto said. “We cannot ask [county residents] to pay more in taxes.”
The decision came weeks after commissioners approved a 3 percent bump for 194 unionized county workers, along with a 2 percent yearly “step” increase for those eligible employees.
The board granted the same deal Tuesday for 145 non-union staff.
Any eligible appointed department head will also receive a “step” or longevity increase next year. Elected officials’ salaries will not change.
Douglas County has four elected department heads. They are:
• County Attorney Chris Karpan ($106,034).
• Auditor/Treasurer Tom Reddick ($90,555).
• Sheriff Troy Wolbersen ($86,169).
• Recorder Dawn Crouse ($60,000).
Granting a 3 percent raise for the sheriff, recorder, county attorney and auditor/treasurer would have cost Douglas County $10,283 in 2009.
Salaries for the 10 appointed department heads were not available as of press time Wednesday.
But based on the 2007 wages of the three highest paid employees – public works director, county attorney and public health director – the county would have paid an extra $28,854 next year if the raises had been approved for appointed department heads.
Attending Tuesday’s board meeting, Wolbersen asked commissioners if they chose to freeze department head wages as a symbolic gesture.
“I agree that the economy is tough,” he said. “But if we’re only talking about 10 department heads rather than 300 employees…the symbolism there is misplaced.”
Wolbersen told commissioners if they had planned to limit or withhold raises they should have done so months ago, and applied the rule more evenly.
Commissioner Gerald Johnson said the board didn’t know then what it does now.
“I don’t think we understood how tough this economy was going to be, even three months ago when we started with our budget procedures,” he said. “I think if this problem had hit the fan in July, we would be talking a lot different numbers here.”
Bill Schalow, county coordinator, said department heads were victims of “unfortunate timing.”
Schalow said news hadn’t broke about the state’s multi-billion dollar budget woes when commissioners negotiated deals with union employees in November and early December.
“We would have held a lot harder line had we known the predicament we were in,” he said.
Board chair Dan Olson expressed frustration with the county’s situation, before ultimately voting to deny raises.
“All these people who work for us do a wonderful job,” he said, “and to say to them that we’re not going to compensate them for this really bites.”
As a fellow elected official, Tom Reddick, county auditor/treasurer, said he understands why board members voted down the requested salary increases.
“I’m disappointed [however] that they didn’t admit that it was only symbolic, because the few thousand dollars they saved, they didn’t even save one job,” he said. “It was a political decision.”