Plymouth County employees will get raises; the question is how much
LE MARS — Plymouth County employees will get a salary bump. The only question is, how much.
County supervisors had varying opinions on that during their meeting Tuesday, Jan. 10, in Le Mars. The county compensation board, made up of a group of local residents, has recommended a 9 percent salary hike for elected officials, including the county attorney, auditor, recorder, sheriff and treasurer, and an 8 percent hike for the supervisors.
Salaries for other county employees will be set by the supervisors working in tandem with department heads.
No final figure was set during the discussion, and the supervisors will take a long look at the 2023-24 fiscal year budget during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17. While raises for elected officials will likely be set during the meeting, the final budget won’t be determined until late January or early February.
Chairman Don Kass said this budget presented “challenges and opportunities.” Among the challenges are higher insurance premiums.
The proposed general fund for the next fiscal year is $10,186,456, according to information shared at the meeting. That is up $947,322, or 10.25 percent, from the current general fund budget of $9,239,134.
The county is in sound financial shape, the supervisors said, and the fact sheet supported that assertion. It said the county had a beginning fund balance of $7,732,973, with anticipated revenue of $9,460,298, and expenses of $10,186,456.
That leaves a balance of $7,006,815.
The county’s rural services fund, funded by a levy on rural residents, also is in the black, with a beginning fund balance of $1,659,208, revenue of $4.9 million and $4,992,411 in expenses. That leaves a balance of $1,566,797.
Supervisor Craig Anderson said the county has 350 days of reserve cash on hand. That’s a long ways from the economic condition of Plymouth County when he was first elected 17 years ago, Anderson said.
“We’ve been very careful with our money. When I got in, it was like, ‘How fast can we throw money out the window?’” he said. “We did a number of things. We eliminated a number of positions. We eliminated some dead weight, we eliminated some people who weren’t pulling their weight.”
Supervisor John Meis said a Sentinel report on the compensation board’s recommendation was met with surprise and displeasure by some county residents. Meis said some said they were appalled at the numbers under discussion.
“Nine percent is a big pill to swallow,” he said.
Meis said there is a lot of talk about an economic downturn in 2023, with some using the word recession. Some companies are laying off employees and Walmart is closing stores. Caution may be advised, he said.
“I just want to look out for that,” Meis said. “Be reasonable and fair to our employees but not go too crazy.”
Supervisor Mike Van Otterloo said the money is available, and the employees deserve it, especially with the cost of living spiking in the last year.
“The county’s doing really well,” he said.
Meis said he favored 6 percent increases for elected officials, with the supervisors getting a 5 percent raise.
Van Otterloo said he favored 8 percent for county officials, with the supervisors getting 5 percent.
Anderson favored a 7 percent increase; he did not have a figure for the supervisors. He said he was most concerned with making sure lower-paid county employees are taken care of in this budget.
Anderson told The Sentinel he is aware some people were taken aback by a recommended 9 percent salary increase.
“I would say this: When you’re a public servant, every taxpayer thinks you’re overpaid,” he said. “I think a lot of people were surprised by the 9 percent recommendation from the compensation board.”
Anderson said when he talks to citizens, he asks them if they would take these jobs. Are they willing to strap on a bulletproof vest every day and go to work as the sheriff? Do they want to lead county departments?
“I think every job finds its value,” he said. “You can hire someone for $10 per hour. When you start employing people, you figure you get a lot better person for $12 per hour.”
The supervisors handed out a sheet comparing recommended increases from compensation boards in other counties. Most were between 8 and 10 percent, but Howard County was considering an 18 percent hike for all employees. Black Hawk, Bremer and Des Moines were mulling just 3 percent raises for supervisors, but Des Moines also was studying 10 percent raises for all other county employees, except the sheriff’s office, where 20 percent raises were recommended.
Some counties also were considering cash payments in addition to percentage increases, such as Hancock County, which was considering a 7 percent increase for the auditor as well as a $5,000 payment for also serving as the county budget director. Dickinson County was considering a 2.7 percent increase for the sheriff as well as a $10,000 payment.