Linn supervisors hear criticism on full-time pay plan, but still pushing ahead

Criticism prompts board to delay vote until next week

Rick Smith
Published: February 11 2013 | 11:39 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:18 am in
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The five members of the Linn County Board of Supervisors are getting pushback on their plan to go from 80-percent-time elected officials to full-timers, with a 25 percent salary increase.

On Monday, though, the criticism didn’t seem to rattle them.

Former state Rep. Renee Schulte of Cedar Rapids and four others told the supervisors at their Monday meeting that the expectation among Linn County voters was that the supervisors would need to be paid less than they had been when the board expanded from three to five members in 2009.

A decision to restore the supervisors’ status and pay to 100-percent time just four years later will have "consequences" in upcoming county elections, Schulte said.

Dennis Orr of Cedar Rapids accused the supervisors of trying "to weasel" the pay increase in, a move he termed "a betrayal to all the residents of Linn County."

Three of the five board members -- Linda Langston, Brent Oleson and Ben Rogers -- are just beginning new four-year terms.

The supervisors themselves on Monday spoke in favor of the plan to restore their salaries to a full-time rate, which Supervisor Lu Barron called a "salary equalization" so each of the supervisors earn the same as three other Linn County elected officials -- the auditor, recorder and treasurer.

In the current budget year, each supervisor is being paid $74,362 a year, which is 80 percent of the $92,953 earned by the auditor, recorder and treasurer.

In the face of the criticism, John Harris, the board’s chairman, on Monday said the board would put off a vote on the issue until next week because some objectors had suggested that the board was rushing the change.

Harris had revealed the board’s plan to go to full-time status two weeks ago, a move which the Linn County Compensation Board supported then. At the time, Harris said one idea might to be move to full-time status in increments, though none of the supervisors mentioned that in the discussion at Monday’s meeting.

Rogers noted that the decision by the board in 2009 to assume 80-percent-time status and pay was a "voluntary" one, but "I don’t recall that we ever said that this was indefinite, that this is what it was going to be into perpetuity," Rogers said.

The supervisors noted that what would be a 25-percent salary increase to go to full-time status was a tiny piece of the county’s budget, one-tenth of 1 percent, they said.

County residents obtained signatures on petitions in 2007 and again in 2008, which prompted countywide votes to expand the Board of Supervisors from three to five members and then to create supervisor districts.

And on Monday, Supervisor Lu Barron said those obtaining signatures left the impression with the public that the board members would take a pay cut if and when their number increased from three to five. The board itself never said such a thing at the time, Barron said.

Even so, the new five-member board agreed in 2009 to go to 80-percent status, under pressure from citizens who had pushed to expand the board.

Barron said the supervisors work full-time and have since 2009, adding that the supervisors do a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative work that the public does not see.

Former Rep. Schulte noted that the supervisors in Polk County, which is twice as large as Linn County with a budget that is twice as large, get paid only a little more than what the Linn supervisors will get if they agree to a status change and a 25 percent pay increase. Supervisors in Scott County, Iowa’s third largest county behind Linn, earn about $50,000 a year, Schulte said.

Langston said both Polk and Scott counties have full-time professional county administrators, while Linn County does not, she noted.

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