HOPF: Timing is everything for county elected official pay raises

Posted: May. 16, 2014 7:28 pm Updated: Aug. 9, 2014 8:15 pm

A 1.5 percent annual raise for three Adams County officeholders up for re-election in November sailed through the County Board last week. Opposition to pay hikes prevalent during two previous salary votes was nowhere to be found.

Sheriff Brent Fischer currently earns $72,530 a year, Clerk/Recorder Georgia Volm $58,240 and Treasurer Terry Asher $54,327. Fischer and Asher are running unopposed for re-election in November, while Volm has announced she will not seek another term. Republican Chuck Venvertloh and Democrat Jonathan Schoenakase are on the ballot.

The winners in November will see those salaries increase by 1.5 percent in each of the four years, which will take the sheriff's salary to $76,980, clerk/recorder to $61,813 and treasurer to $57,660.

State law requires that salaries for elected officials for the entirety of their term to be set at least 180 days before an election. Those three positions received 2 percent raises in each of the past three years after getting no raise during the first year of their terms.

This comes after two other county officeholders -- circuit clerk and coroner -- had their salaries frozen for four years when that came up for a vote in 2012. The vote was unanimous that the salary of circuit clerk remain at $57,360 annually through 2016 and coroner stay at $41,954.

Lori Geschwander was elected circuit clerk in November 2012, beating Republican Laura Kent Donahue after incumbent Randy Frese chose to challenge state Sen. John Sullivan instead of seeking re-election to a third term.

Jim Keller ran unopposed for re-election as coroner two years ago.

The County Board was facing some tough decisions in 2012. During the same meeting when salaries were frozen, the board agreed to take out up to a $1 million loan if necessary in anticipation of property tax collections. County revenues were down $660,000 from multiple sources, and the loan was needed to help the county maintain cash flow.

Declining to give raises to elected officials was seen as a belt-tightening decision, and probably a good public relations move. The city of Quincy did the same thing for its top three elected officials before the 2013 municipal election.

Finance Committee Chairman Duane Venvertloh, R-7, said last week that the county has seen improvements in timeliness of payments from the states, providing financial stability. So raises were awarded, although County Board members will continue to be paid $3,796 a year and the board chairman $5,850.

Now, however, the County Board will likely have to increase the salaries of circuit clerk and coroner two years from now, or be accused of cherry-picking certain elected positions. County employees also are receiving raises in new contracts negotiating with bargaining units, so the board likely would find it hard to justify not treating those two elected positions the same way, regardless of what the financial picture looks like in 2016.

Timing is everything.


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