Setting wages for 2011 divided Crow Wing County Board members Tuesday when they considered pay for department heads.
It’s traditional to set the coming year’s wages at the board’s last meeting in December. The vote divided the board across multiple vote attempts and had two elected department heads asking if the wages set were fair in terms of gender and experience.
County Recorder Kathy Ludenia voluntarily agreed to freeze her pay when members of the leadership team didn’t, meaning their wages kept moving when her’s did not. Human Resources Director Tami Laska suggested a 4.5 percent increase for Ludenia, which still left Ludenia two steps behind where she could have been without the economic downturn.
Ludenia said after more than 20 years with the county she was still on Step Five while male counterparts were placed at higher steps. Ludenia said she felt she had not been treated fairly but was told to do otherwise would have meant too big of a raise. Under the pay system, Ludenia said a new employee could start out on Step One and reach Step Nine in nine years, while she is still on Step Five after 24 years.
“I’m being treated differently than the rest of the leadership team,” Ludenia said.
Laska said Ludenia’s pay is in compliance with pay equity and it appeared to coincide with the market. Ludenia said the counties chosen for comparison do not have similar workload or numbers in terms of transactions.
Thiede said a goal was a fair, performance-based system and he was sympathetic to Ludenia but a little less sympathetic after hearing it passed muster on pay equity.
Laureen Borden, treasurer who will become the county’s auditor/treasurer in the newly combined office, also spoke of being disappointed in the reduced pay for her office. Auditor Deborah Erickson, who has been in the office since 2006, makes $87,186 now.
Borden, who is moving from supervising a staff of about four to a staff of 18, was being offered $82,862, a 15.7 increase from her $71,595 pay as long-time treasurer.
Borden told the board she was a little angry at first and didn’t think she should start at Step One considering her experience.
“If I could afford it I would work for nothing, but a person should be fairly compensated for the job they do,” Borden said, adding she thought since $87,186 was budgeted for the auditor’s job that she would be getting that amount.
“I will gladly take it at $82,000,” Borden said. “Not because I think it is fair but because I think the taxpayers deserve a break. ... I’m not going to ask for a higher salary even though I don’t think this is logical.”
Borden said it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the election turned out differently. Borden was the sole member of the county’s elected officials and senior management staff who did not opt for a wage freeze for 2010, increasing from $66,631 to $71,595. Borden declined an increase in 2009, but at the time said the freeze didn’t seem appropriate for 2010 considering her workload.
Thiede said he hoped Borden would be successful and noted the voters hired her but he said he had a difficult time giving her a 15 percent raise because the pay grid said so. Thiede said he’d rather Borden start at $78,000 or $80,000 and then adjust the wages upward.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen noted Borden’s responsibilities are increasing.
“She won the election,” Franzen said. “I think she deserves to be compensated for that.”
Although Franzen said she wanted a pay freeze and taxpayers didn’t have more money to give as they were facing pay cuts of their own, she said she wasn’t going to offer a motion for a freeze because she wasn’t sure anyone would second it. Franzen said she didn’t want to have to cut staff, but was reminded the dollar amounts being discussed had already been approved with the budget.
Tuesday’s recommendations noted senior management will not get a wage increase for 2011 and will maintain 2009 wage levels. The commissioners will continue their 2008 wage levels. Leadership team members, about 30 supervisors and managers, agreed to forego a cost of living raise but will continue to get step increases for about 50 percent of the leadership team staff.
Franzen said she didn’t want to see any wage movement and wanted a wage freeze. She questioned a plan to give Beth Wilms, who started with the county as community services director, a nearly $1,500 raise after two weeks. Laska said that wage increase was to cover an oversight she made in starting Wilms at 2009 levels instead of 2010. Thiede agreed with Franzen on Wilms’ wage increase, saying it was more appropriate to give one later, perhaps in July, than now after two weeks on the job.
Commissioner Doug Houge said he’d like to see the recorder’s position stay at $70,629 and agreed the community services director shouldn’t get an increase after two weeks.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom’s motion to approve the wages with the increase for Ludenia and without the raise for Wilms failed as Houge, Franzen, Thiede opposed. Thiede’s motion to amend Nystrom’s motion to reduce Borden’s pay to $80,000 failed.
After more discussion, Thiede recommended Nystrom’s motion be reconsidered, saying he would change his vote from no to yes. Thiede said he thought the message had been sent and he wasn’t willing to stay another hour and haggle over pennies.
The motion was reconsidered and passed with Nystrom, Thiede, and Chairman Phil Trusty in favor and Franzen and Houge opposed.
The county’s top three officials in terms of highest pay are Administrator Tim Houle, County Attorney Don Ryan and Susan Beck, community services director who is retiring at year’s end. Beck earns $105,020.
The county will be part of a new pay equity study early next year.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.