Sheriff’s salary, put in perspective, is a mystifiying matter

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 22, 2001

Last time this column dealt with some spending on personnel by the county board of commissioners, three of whom were about to leave their offices.

Monday, January 22, 2001

Last time this column dealt with some spending on personnel by the county board of commissioners, three of whom were about to leave their offices. We indicated that soon we would deal with the sheriff’s salary increase. The &uot;soon&uot; is this week, so here are the facts as we can find them.

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As reported in this local newspaper on January 3, 2001, the Sheriff was given a raise or an &uot;adjustment&uot; of $26,000 annually at the Dec. 26 meeting of the County Commissioners. I think that a close examination of all the facts involved will conclude that this was, indeed, a raise in the common interpretation of the word. Acknowledging the fact that there is disagreement on just what the $26,000 is or was, there can be no confusion on the fact that the Sheriff’s salary is now &uot;approximately $95,000&uot; as reported in the paper. According to the figures in the report on County Salaries, compiled by the Association of Minnesota Counties, Sheriff Nolander’s salary for 2000 was $68,258. Add to this the $26,000 and the total rests at $94,258. I presume that the Sheriff’s salary will benefit from the 2.5 percent cost of living increase accorded others in the county. This is not confirmed at this writing. We may be able to report on that later. Including the remuneration indicated above, an accurate number for his annual income would be approximately $97,000. Many will agree that the Sheriff has a good job. He, of course, has additional benefits not available to most of the people working in the private sector.

It has been said in my presence, many times, &uot;everything is relative.&uot; Let us insert a little relativity to this situation. At $97,000 annually, the Sheriff’s salary will be the second largest in the state of Minnesota, exceeded only by the sheriff of Hennepin County. Freeborn County has a population of 32,324 according to our reference material compared to Hennepin County’s 1,081,000 population. The Hennepin County Sheriff supervises 730 employees. Our local Sheriff supervises 30. To further put our Sheriff’s salary into prospective, let us look at some other county Sheriff current salaries: Mower County $55,689, Faribault County $55,797, Rice County $68,900, Olmsted County $87,005. In doing this research, many interesting facts came to light including, for example, the fact that Rice County has a population of 54,101 (ranks 15th in state). Freeborn County has a population of 32,324 and ranks 28th. These numbers are interesting because the survey shows that the Rice County Sheriff supervises thirteen (13) while our local Sheriff supervises thirty (30). Therefore, with 40% less population, our Sheriff has a staff of 131% more than Rice County.

Another most interesting fact came to light during this research derived from the Internet. I read with interest the results and analysis of the State of Minnesota, Court of Appeals, Case number C9-996-1081 filed January 21, 1997 WAYNE GOODNATURE VS.MOWER COUNTY. In this case, Mr. Goodnature, the retired Sheriff of Mower County, asked the court to rule that the money paid to him in 1992 through 1994 for meal services for prisoners be considered as salary. The court ruled against Mr. Goodnature and PERA (Public employees Retirement Association) did not consider those monies as salary. It is very interesting to note one paragraph of the analysis of this case: &uot;In addition, Minnesota law does not authorize a county to include in a sheriff’s salary any amount the sheriff is paid for furnishing food services. In general, every county official receiving a stated salary shall receive the same in full compensation for all services and expenses whatsoever.&uot;

If we are to understand that the $26,000 is a &uot;wash&uot; and costs the county nothing, then what is it? Profit compensation for the sheriff? In that case, it is certainly part of his remuneration, salary or otherwise and that pretty much verifies the comparative numbers shown in this column today. Is there or was there more than $26,000 available for this type of adjustment? I think we deserve an accounting of the funds in an effort to see exactly what the sheriff made off the operation of the jail as County Attorney Nelson alluded to in the Tribune’s interview. My question in this matter is simply: &uot;When is enough enough&uot;? I don’t think it is necessary for Freeborn County to reward a soon-to-retire elected official to this degree. Granted, he has apparently done a good job. He has been paid &uot;good,&uot; too. Think about it.

Warren Jensen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Mondays.