Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — Against the backdrop of skyrocketing costs of living, the Washington County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to raise payroll for all county employees by a greater margins than in recent memory.
“These numbers (are) what is happening everywhere in this country right now,” Supervisor Marcus Fedler said. “Not just in Iowa, not just in Washington County … Could anybody predict that this was going to happen, honestly? I don’t think so.”
While the county’s figures showed a 6.8% rise in the cost of living, supervisors unanimously approved a motion that raised all nonelected employees’ wages by 7% in July (the start of the next fiscal year) plus another 3% in January of 2023 to overcome expected trends in food prices and inflation.
“(7%) is only 0.2% higher than the projected cost of living,” Supervisor Stan Stoops said. “I don’t think we’re being very conscientious.”
Board members cautioned that they may amend the 3% addition down the road depending on economic conditions, but stressed that planning for a midyear increase was important.
“I don’t think they can plan a budget on, ‘Let’s review it in six months,’” Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. said. “I think you should set the 7% to take effect at the beginning of the fiscal year … and then you could add 2% or 3% Jan. 1.”
As for elected employees’ pay rates, the supervisors unanimously accepted the county compensation board’s recommendations, raising the pay of all elected officials, including themselves, by 20% or more.
“We’ve been seeing for years that we’ve been backsliding compared to other counties in the last 10-13 years,” Compensation Board Chair Chris Harmsen said. “With the state deciding this year that evidently things needed to change, they put into place the whole ‘Back the Blue’ law … that gave some very specific direction from Des Moines and kind of gave us traction that we’ve been trying for the last few years.”
The “Back the Blue” Act required that county sheriffs make an amount “comparable to salaries paid to professional law enforcement administrators … by cities of similar population,” but Harmsen said that gave the compensation board leverage with other elected officials’ salaries as well.
“We also felt that the other elected positions, it made sense for them also to be around the 80% area of what Johnson County is paying,” he said. “We felt like if we’re getting much lower than that … a lot of people are going to be tempted to drive 20 minutes and go to work in Johnson County because we’re not anywhere close to what they’re paying.”
Despite the unanimous vote of approval, the move came only after lengthy debate at the supervisor meeting.
“The elected officials in this courthouse work hard,” Seward said. “But when we do that for ourselves, what’s it going to mean to the citizen that’s out there? It looks like the government’s taking care of themselves.”
Yoder defended the necessity of the position’s salary, now slated to reach $47,116 at the start of the next fiscal year.
“I think we definitely need to make some increases,” he said. “If this supervisor job did not pay what it did, I couldn’t afford the job, it just costs me that much business because I’ve neglected my other business because of it.”
Stoops said the increases were overdue.
“In the past few years we’ve worked hard being conscientious with raises, and we kind of put ourselves on the spot for it,” he said. “We boxed ourselves in, and now it’s come to this … it’s a lot of money, but I don’t think it’s out of line.”
Board members maintained that the changes would take effect without raising taxes.
“This is going to get paid for from the existing budget, we have to buck up … we can’t continue down this road expecting something else to happen,” Fedler said. “We have a lot of mandates, we have a lot of things we don’t have control over … but if this goes through, every nickel has to come out of the current budget, and I’ll fight for every nickel of it and then some. In the things that we can control, we have got to be smaller and leaner.”
Seward said department budgets would face scrutiny as the county planned for the next fiscal year.
“It’s going to be up to everybody to take a little ownership … so that this is not on the backs of taxpayers who are already looking at the cost of living going up,” he said. “I want to make sure that every employee understands, they have got to invest themselves in saving money everywhere else … we’ve got to have buy-in from everybody.”
Board Chair Richard Young said the group would likely have to put some third party projects on the chopping block.
“I’m talking non-departmental, not a county office, that come in here every year and present to us and ask for funding,” Young said. “I think that there’s some that we can start cutting. It’s not going to be a popular decision, but it’s what we were elected for. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions and then we take the heat, and if they don’t like it, I’m up next year to get voted out of office.”