Board weighs per-diems versus straight salary for commissioners

By Jennie ZeitlerStaff Writer

Currently, the Morrison County Commissioners receive a salary of $21,328. They are also able to claim a per diem payment of $55 per meeting they attend, not to exceed one per diem claim per day regardless of how many meetings they attend that day. Commissioners are also able to claim mileage and travel expenses.

The Board is considering whether to eliminate per diem payments altogether, which would mean adjusting their salary to compensate for that change.

County Administrator Deb Gruber prepared some comparison information and possible resolutions for the Board to use.

Comparing figures with 13 other Minnesota counties of comparable size, population and tax base, on average Morrison County is currently near the bottom. Only two counties have a lower salary.

Only one county of the 13, Aitkin County, now pays its commissioners a straight salary with no per diems.

Two of the counties have a lower per diem rate and two have the same as Morrison, leaving nine with higher rates — some of them significantly higher.

The five-year average of annual per diem payments to commissioners has been $8,800.

“A suggested minimum annual commissioners salary of $30,000 will result in a budget reduction for 2013 of more than $7,000,” Gruber said. “The reason for the reduced budget would be due to the fact that with per diems, a certain amount of guessing needs to be done on my part as to what may or may not be collected by commissioners. Not having to plan for that variance can be directly reflected in the budget.”

It will then be up to the Board to ensure that committee assignments are spread as evenly as possible to all board members.

In addition to salary and per diems, the county also pays for insurance, as the commissioners are covered under the Morrison County employee cafeteria insurance plan — which includes health, life and disability insurance.

Choices will still need to be made regarding per diems available through other entities. Commissioners could accept a per diem for those meetings, not accept a per diem or accept a per diem but have it credited to Morrison County to offset the commissioner salary budget.

Expense reimbursement will remain the same regardless if per diems are part of their compensation or not. Various expenses eligible for reimbursement include mileage, meals, registrations and hotel costs relating to county business. Some of the factors that impact expense reimbursement levels among different commissioners include, how far a commissioner lives from Little Falls, the frequency and location of various committee meetings they attend, issues arising in a particular district or the level of constituent involvement.

“Based on what we’ve learned the last number of months, modifications need to be made to the process for commissioner compensation. Based on the recommendations received, the Board can go with either a flat salary or more specifically outline some of the parameters regarding per diem payments,” Gruber said. “It is completely up to the Board on how they want to move forward, but statute indicates the decision for 2013 must be made prior to the end of this year.”

Commissioner compensation for 2011, the last full year for which figures are available, ranges from $41,230.56 for Commissioner Rich Collins to $47,624.07 for Commissioner Don Meyer. Meyer is also paid a longevity bonus of $426.40 per year, having been on the board for more than 20 years.

The total compensation for all five commissioners together in 2011, was $219,859.47 in salaries, benefits, per diems, travel, meals and lodging.

The issue will be discussed again during the Dec. 11 planning session and is scheduled to be brought before the Board for action Tuesday, Dec. 18.