The Cherokee County Compensation Board approved salary recommendations for elected county officials to go into effect at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
The recommendations will go before the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors for approval or revision.
Compensation board members Frank Escue, George Wittgraf, Donna Burkhardt, Laurie Gerstandt, Lisa Woltman and Jim Staver met Wednesday in the board room at the Cherokee County Courthouse to discuss wage increases for supervisors, auditor, treasurer, recorder and sheriff.
There was some question whether the wage recommendation for the county attorney position was an increase, since the wage that the county attorney is entitled to has been in dispute.
The annual salary recommended for supervisors is $20,800, an increase of $600 (2.97 percent). The $1,000 additional stipend for the chairman position will be unchanged.
The annual salaries recommended for auditor, treasurer and recorder are all $44,500, an increase of $1,738 (4.06 percent).
The annual salary recommended for the sheriff is $53,500, an increase of $2,210 (4.3 percent).
The annual salary recommended for the county attorney is $80,000, which is $10,000 more than the $70,000 the county attorney is being paid now but is less than the $90,000 that the county attorney has claimed he is entitled to because $90,000 was the salary being paid to the county attorney when the compensation board met last January.
The board of supervisors has the final vote on what the salary of the elected officials will be but the supervisors are restricted in their options regarding the recommendations.
The supervisors can approve any percentage of the recommendations from 0 percent to 100 percent but must approve the same percentage for all offices.
The supervisors cannot, for example, approve 50 percent of the salary increase recommended by the compensation board for one office and approve 100 percent for another office. The supervisors cannot go below 0 percent (a salary decrease) nor go above 100 percent of the salary recommendation made by the compensation board.
Each of the offices was represented by one of the compensation board members who commented on their respective offices. Prior to that discussion, the board had elected Escue as chairman of the compensation board and Wittgraf as secretary.
The longest discussion of a particular position occurred regarding the office of county attorney, which has gone through a transition and some controversy over the last year.
Up until Jan. 1, 2007, the position of county attorney was part-time. It became full-time at the start of the year but no one chose to run for election for the position at the salary originally determined by the supervisors.
The supervisors advertised the position and hired a person to serve as an interim attorney until the next countywide election. The negotiated salary for Jamie Bowers, an attorney with a great deal of experience as a federal prosecutor, was $90,000.
Within a few months, Bowers decided to quit, agreeing to stay on during the search for a new attorney. The supervisors hired James Tiernan, a relatively inexperienced attorney, at a negotiated salary of $70,000. After that hiring, a petition was circulated calling for a special election for position of county attorney.
Ryan Kolpin, then serving as county magistrate as well as having a private practice in Aurelia, ran against Tiernan in the special election and won.
It was Kolpin's position in comments to the supervisors after his election last summer that the salary of the county attorney's position was $90,000. The supervisors took the position that the salary for Kolpin was $70,000. That is the salary that Kolpin has been paid since he took office. Kolpin mentioned the possibility of litigation but none has been filed so far.
Wittgraf indicated at the meeting Wednesday there is some basis for the contention that the compensation board meeting last January upheld $90,000 as the county attorney salary because the compensation board made no adjustment to it.
Kris Glienke, deputy county auditor, told the compensation board that she served as interim secretary for the compensation board in January and it was her observation that the compensation board members were uncertain that they had authority to make recommendations on the county attorney's salary since Bowers was an appointed official rather than an elected official.
Wittgraf stated that Kolpin's experience as an attorney is somewhere between that of Tiernan and Bowers and that an $80,000 salary is reasonable for that position. Wittgraf said that Kolpin is willing to do much of the civil work that has been outsourced to private attorneys as a past practice of the county attorney's office, saving the county outside attorney fees.
Gerstandt, reviewing a list of salaries for full-time county attorneys in Iowa, commented that it is hard to find anyone in the $80,000 salary range for attorneys in counties of similar size.
Wittgraf stated that Kolpin is experienced, has only one part-time assistant and is saving the county money.
Wittgraf said that Kolpin is willing to accept the salary of $80,000 as of the start of the fiscal year in July 1 without litigating for anything beyond his $70,000 salary up until that date.
Escue spoke on behalf of the sheriff in recommending a raise for Sheriff Dave Scott. Burkhardt spoke on behalf of Lynde Lundquist, treasurer. Woltman spoke on behalf of Bonnie Ebel, auditor. Gerstandt spoke on behalf of Dawn Jones-Coombs, recorder, and Staver spoke on behalf of the supervisors. All praised the conscientious nature of the public officials and described the high level of responsibility of their offices.
Woltman suggested that the auditor should receive more than the positions that are currently paid the same amount - the treasurer and the recorder, because the auditor has personnel responsibility over the entire county staff.
Burkhardt disagreed; stating that making these positions unequal in pay would create hostility.
Gerstandt also disagreed with Woltman's position, stating that a study would need to be done if the board was going to determine that one of the positions deserved more compensation than the others.
Wittgraf noted that the salary increases were rather light last year because of economic difficulties faced by the county. He said that this year, the salaries should be adjusted up some to catch up. However, his original motion regarding salaries was rejected by a vote of two to four, with Jim Staver the only other board member to vote for Witgraff's motion.
In the second motion, the salary increases were adjusted downward to what is reported above, except the county attorney recommendation that was $80,000 in both the original motion and the subsequent motion.
The second motion passed unanimously.