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What is fair. . .?


Sun, Dec 17th, 2000
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Monday, December 18, 2000

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, and a changing of the guard just around the New Year corner, the Fillmore County Board dealt with the difficult issue of pay at last Tuesdays meeting.

It is interesting to note the contrast between how the Board arrives at the salary levels of elected officials and how it arrives at the salary (or hourly wage) levels for union workers in the highway department. Both tasks were on the agenda. The former took merely a handful of minutes while the latter has taken many hours of negotiation over several weeks.

The process began with the elected officials. Each Commissioner received a spreadsheet showing a comparison of the salaries of Fillmore Countys elected officials to those same positions in other counties. There are six elected positions in the county: Commissioner, Auditor, Treasurer, Recorder, Sheriff, and County Attorney. Across the bottom of the spreadsheet was the line "2001 Request."

While the "Request" line for the Commissioner column was blank, Commissioner Helen Bicknese began with a motion to raise the commissioners annual salaries by 2.5%, from $13,627 to $13,968. There was no opposition to this motion and it was quietly approved.

The Auditor was next. In the "request" box, Auditor Angela Burrs had written, "What is fair." As Burrs sat quietly listening, offering no input as to what she thought was fair, a motion by Commissioner Don Boyum brought her a salary increase of 4% to $44,735.

The Treasurer and the Recorder each received the increases they requested on the "bottom line." The Treasurer received a 4% increase to $44,928, and the Recorder received his requested increase of 5% to $$40,936.

Up to this point the process had been unanimous. But when the Board reached the Sheriff column on the spreadsheet, dissent began to rear its head. The Sheriff was asking for an increase of 8.9% from $56,000 to $61,000. At first there was silence, then, Commissioner Duane Bakke moved to raise the Sheriffs salary by 4% to $58,240.

Quickly, Commissioner Bicknese announced her dissent to the motion, saying, "This is a 365-day a year, 7 days a week, 24 hour a day job."

Commissioner Boyum joined the discussion, asking County Attorney Matt Opat, "Do they have the right to come back on this?", referring to an appeal.

"Weve allowed them to come back in the past," replied Opat.

Feeling comfortable with this response, Boyum joined Bakke and Chairman Gary Peterson in giving the Sheriff the 4% increase. Bicknese stood alone with the dissenting vote.

Lastly, the Board reached the County Attorney column where the request line read, "Whatever you wish." A long silence engulfed the room. Certainly, all must have felt awkward with Attorney Opat sitting at the table, yet there was little discussion until Bakke broke the silence with a motion to raise Opats salary by just over 4% to $54,250 for his 80% of full time position. The motion carried unanimously.

Quite the contrast to this elected official salary process, the Board spent nearly two hours in strategy sessions and negotiations with Local # Operating Engineers representatives on the new highway workers contract.

Where the higher-paid elected officials had sat quietly, seemingly at the mercy of how the County Board felt about their pay raises, the highway workers were well represented by Union negotiator Mike Daniels who reviewed, point by point, each item of compensation: from seniority and job titles to holidays and wages.

The County presented the highway workers with a counter-proposal from the negotiations on November 28. This counter-proposal detailed pay increases and promotion criteria for the next two years.

After a break for a strategy session in the hall outside the chamber, the union representatives returned to the table to discuss the equipment proficiency standards in the countys offer.

In questioning the countys change in proficiency requirements for the Specialist III position (from proficiency with two out of five pieces of equipment to four out of five), Daniels explained, "We are not saying this is a bad offer, we just might have a problem with the standards for equipment proficiency."

Daniels informed the Board that they would look at the counter-proposal and return for the last Board meeting of the year on December 22.

Non-Union Highway Business


A considerable amount of time was spent with County Engineer Steve Voigt discussing Voigts proposal to reorganize the engineering positions in his department. A statewide shortage of qualified engineering technicians, combined with Fillmore Countys lower pay scales for technicians, has prompted Voigt to petition the Board for approval to reclassify some existing positions and create some new positions.

Under intense questioning by various commissioners, Voigt explained, "Im looking at the long term, trying to build a program for success in the future and not doom us to failure."

However, in the short term, the countys highway office is experiencing an engineering technician shortage and may be forced to use more private consultants to get projects designed and built. According to Voigt, increased use of private engineering consultants will cost the county more money than paying higher technician salaries.

Due to the countys new pay system, Voigt received little help from the Board with regard to reclassification of existing positions at this time. He did, however, receive approval to hire an Engineering Aid position as soon as the new system can classify such a position.

Zoning Permits


Zoning Administrator Norm Craig was back again this week with a file full of Conditional Use Permits recommended for approval by the Planning Commission.

A permit for Larry and Melissa Schmidt to rezone 1.5 acres in Spring Valley Township to commercial zoning brought comments from County Attorney Opat who warned the Board that "spot" zoning of small tracts to commercial status is bringing an increase in the number of highway billboards in the county.

Nonetheless, the board approved the conditional use permit.

Budget Approved


In the last step of the 2001 budget process, the Board unanimously approved the new budget and the proposed tax levy as presented to the public at the Truth in Taxation hearing on December 7.

The last meeting of the Board this year will be held on Friday, December 22 at 8:00 A.M.

By Mike McGrath

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