Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2014

Not a comp board fan

By David Hotle | Dec 18, 2012

How many of you out there are going to get 5 percent pay raises this coming year without any additional responsibilities? Don’t be shy. Why am I not sensing everyone’s hand flying up?

A 5 percent increase in salaries is what is being recommended for Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar and Washington County Attorney Larry Brock. The other elected officials in the county will possibly get 4 percent increases, if the Washington County Supervisors approve the recommendations the Washington County Compensation Board made Tuesday night.

I have never been a fan of the use of compensation boards to determine pay increases for public officials. Yes, I know it is a state mandate. Talk about the establishment defending the establishment. Basically how it works is that the elected officials get to choose the representatives seated on the board. I never see anyone on the board representing the taxpayers. My feeling is this makes pay raises a foregone conclusion and the real question they determine is how staggeringly high the raises will be.

The logic used by the board also tends to escape me. Each year someone argues that the salaries of officials should be based on the amount made by officials from other counties. Usually, the counties they choose to base the salary model on are counties that have a much larger population that we do.

Washington County has a population of 21,700 people according to the 2010 census, making it the 28th largest county of 99 Iowa counties with a population density of just over 38 people per square mile. The argument going around the table Tuesday evening was that the salaries should be closer to those of Johnson County. According to the 2010 census, Johnson County has a population of 111,006 and has the fourth largest population (I bet it is a lot more when college is in session) with a population density of 212 per square mile. I’m guessing with five times the population, the elected officials probably have five times the employees to manage and five times the work to do.

I’m sure most workers would love to be summarily paid the same salary as anyone who is at the top of the game in the state. While I would love to receive the same salary as Rick Green (vice president and editor of the Des Moines Register) even if I don’t have his qualifications and am not responsible for managing as many employees, editing as much content or filling as many pages as he does.

The argument was raised that the average salary for all elected officials should be 15th in the state. Marshall County is 15th in state population. I guess that is a little better. That county only has a population of 40,650 people and a density of 71 people per square mile.

I’m not saying our elected officials don’t deserve a raise. My objection really comes when officials aren’t subject to the same rules as the people they are representing. In the private sector, it is usually the owners of businesses who determine if their employees will get a raise or, in the case of union shops, pay raises are negotiated. Common criteria to determine raises include standard of living increases, whether the worker has taken added responsibility and, possibly most importantly, if the business can afford to give the raises. Sometimes employees have to skip getting a raise for the good of the business. It wouldn’t do to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. I really miss Twinkies. Long story short, why are the people who are representing the public getting 4 and 5 percent pay increases while most of us aren’t even sure if we are going to get a 2 percent standard of living increase? If you start taking into account the income of people who own their own businesses, any increase would be right out the window.

I am forced to wonder if the people sitting on the compensation board who are business owners plan to give their employees 5 percent pay raises this coming year. It is easy to recommend something like this when dealing with taxpayers’ money instead of their own.

Of course this story ends with a chuckle. The pay raises will be voted on after this new board of supervisors is seated in January. This means two Washington County supervisors whom he prosecuted for alleged campaign violations will vote on the pay raise recommended for Brock.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Dec 19, 2012 03:11

It is heartening to see the Journal do serious editorials rather than the fluff that use to be written years ago. It is what journalism and a newspaper should be about. Excellent writing!



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