County approves raises for elected officials

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Freeborn County commissioners approved raises for elected county officials — including themselves — Tuesday.

Commissioners approved the raises for Auditor/Treasurer Pat Martinson, Recorder Kelly Callahan, Sheriff Kurt Freitag and Attorney David Walker by 4-1 votes. Commissioners Chris Shoff, Jim Nelson, Mike Lee and Glen Mathiason voted yes to the increases. District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan voted no to the raises.

Commissioners approved Freitag’s salary at $97,020, a 4.99 percent increase from his $92,403 pay. Freitag requested a more than 22 percent increase to $112,865.

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• Callahan received a $73,011 salary, a 4.49 percent increase from his $69,867 pay. He requested $73,728.

• Martinson received a 2019 salary of $86,552, a 4.1 percent increase from her $83,143 pay. She requested an $87,400 salary.

• Walker received a $112,809 salary, a 3.95 percent increase from $108,522 in pay.  He requested a $113,400 salary.

Commissioners slightly increased their own salary, from $23,000 in 2018 to $23,566 by a 3-2 vote. Nelson, Shoff and Mathiason voted yes. Lee and Belshan voted no. 

Freeborn County Administrator Thomas Jensen said the salary increases are not expected to result in additional tax increases.

Belshan motioned to keep commissioner salaries at $23,000, but that was rejected by a 2-3 vote. Belshan and Lee voted to keep commissioner salaries as is. Nelson, Shoff and Mathiason voted no.

“We need to increase it because there is going to be some of us leaving here, and we need to get it up a little bit so that we can get some decent people coming in,” Nelson said.

Shoff noted a Renville County commissioner told him they are paid a $30,000 salary, plus $75 per diem, in a county with 15,000 residents.

He said the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners eliminated per diems in the 1990s and opted to increase salaries to make up the difference.

Nelson said he planned to donate his raise to Disabled American Veterans.

Commissioners also voted to accept county employee position descriptions prepared by David Drown and Associates, set a 4 percent cost of living adjustment for county employees effective Jan. 1, approved step increases for eligible employees and adopted the new wage scale prepared by the firm effective Jan. 1. The cost of living increase does not affect elected officials.

The measures passed on 4-1 votes. Belshan was the lone no vote.

The changes are not expected to increase the tax levy, according to Jensen.

The county hired David Drown & Associates in April to help revamp its job descriptions.

In accordance with the changes, the top end of the county’s pay scale is rising approximately 59 cents, with the lowest county wage — a housekeeping position — increasing $4.26 per hour. 

Jensen said the county’s attrition rate has averaged about 35 to 50 employees per year over the last five years due to employees leaving for better pay and benefits elsewhere, which is “much higher than the norm,” he said.

Jensen said 10 percent turnover per year is considered normal. The county’s has been between 14 and 18 percent recently, he said.

To Jensen, the county is “hemorrhaging” at least $350,000 to $400,000 per year on hiring and replacement costs, something Jensen attributes to low pay.

“County jobs have not been reviewed in over 20 years,” he wrote in a letter to the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners. “The position descriptions were completely revised to reflect the actual duties of employees, and those accurate descriptions were used to re-formulate the proposed wage scale.”

Freeborn County employees attended Tuesday’s meeting, and department leaders stood before the commissioners during board discussion. Employees applauded commissioners after the wage votes passed.

“Sustainable funding for this implementation is the result of budget reductions and additional revenue in all 15 county departments,” Jensen wrote. “And, contrary to information that has been disseminated, the implementation of the proposed wage table and position placement will result in a reduction of payroll costs going forward.”

In the letter, Jensen spoke of the services Freeborn County employees provide, including oversight of more than $50 million in revenue and more than $148 million in capital assists.

“The resolutions before you recognize the efforts put forth by all employees,” he wrote. “More importantly, it provides the foundation that will enable future commissioners the ability to maintain employee longevity and to aid in the recruitment of quality employees, ensuring exceptional service to all county citizens.”

In a note, Belshan said he did not support the raises.

“Never have I seen such irresponsible spending in one meeting,” he said. “The tail is wagging the dog.”

Belshan said after the meeting that according to a PowerPoint presentation given to commissioners Nov. 27, if everything remained at the old wage table, the wages, which included a 2 percent cost of living adjustment, would increase $1.08 million in 2019.

Moving the employees to the new wage table after a 4 percent cost of living increase would increase wages a total $1.66 million in 2019, he said, which is a 53 percent increase from the normal increase in wages on the old table with the 2 percent cost of living adjustment.

“Had we not done anything and kept the old wage table, it would have cost the county $578,458.00 less in wages,” he said.

Jensen said the adjustment is resulting in a 1.8 percent increase in overall county wages.

Budget cuts and revenue increases made the wage increase possible, Jensen said, and the investment will not increase county taxes.

The bill for the wage adjustments is $560,000, which includes two new positions, one in Freeborn County Public Health and Freeborn County Public Works, Jensen said. The wage increase would have been about $440,000 if the new positions were not created.

Nelson, a business owner, said employee raises are needed.

“Or we’ll be looking for other (employees), and then we’ve got to start all over again,” he said. “We’ve got a business … and, to keep good employees, you’ve gotta pay them.”   

In other action, commissioners:

• Set the final board meeting of the year at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 28.

• Accepted the retirement notice of Public Health Nurse Janice King effective Feb. 28 and approved refilling the position.

• Placed Public Health social worker Missy Rasmussen on full-time status.

• Appointed Michelle Miller for the open Turtle Creek Watershed Board of Managers position. Miller will serve a three-year term effective Jan. 1.

• Approved 10 Freeborn County commissioners scholarships, each for $500.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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