It’s that time again — county tackles elected officials’ salaries

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

The Morrison County Board gathered information and listened to presentations by the county’s four elected officials at its planning session, Tuesday.

County Attorney Brian Middendorf, Auditor-Treasurer Russ Nygren, Recorder Eileen Holtberg and Sheriff Michel Wetzel addressed the Board as part of the annual review of their salaries.

Current salaries are: $102,898 for Middendorf, $87,942 for Nygren, $57,138 for Holtberg and $102,045 for Wetzel.

By statute and for comparison purposes, Morrison County looks at the salary and tenure of elected officials in the following counties: Aitkin, Crow Wing, Benton, Cass, Todd, Mille Lacs, Becker, Douglas, McLeod, Isanti, Kandiyohi, Ottertail and Clay.

The Morrison County attorney’s office includes seven full-time staff members with a budget of $777,000. There are 13 full-time employees in the auditor’s office with a budget of $1.1 million. The recorder supervises four staff with a budget of $281,720. The sheriff oversees approximately 60 full-time employees with a budget of $5.3 million.

Middendorf, Holtberg and Wetzel distributed prepared memos outlining the responsibilities of their respective offices. County Administrator Deb Gruber provided basic information regarding each position, including a chart showing comparative salaries with similar counties in the area.

Middendorf pointed out that in addition to the high number of serious criminal cases his office has handled this year, there has been a 40 percent increase in felony and gross misdemeanor cases.

Nevertheless, Middendorf did not request a salary increase, despite being 3 percent below the average salary of comparable county attorneys.

Nygren said that his salary is within about $100 of the average.

“With the other county employees receiving a 2 percent increase in 2014, I would be very satisfied if you would do that for me,” he said.

That increase is included in Nygren’s 2014 budget.

Holtberg acknowledged the fact that she is in her first year as recorder, but pointed out that she has 23 years of experience in the recorder’s office.

“My salary is the lowest of all compared counties,” she said. “I am requesting a 4 percent salary increase plus a 2 percent cost of living adjustment, for a 6 percent total adjustment.”

Wetzel reminded the Board that the Sheriff’s Office is the largest office in the county.

“A good internal comparison would be the Social Services and the Public Works departments,” he said. “When we (elected officials) were on the step plan, the heads of those two departments and I were ranked the same. My salary has never approached theirs.”

The Social Services Department includes 65 full-time staff with a budget of $8.7 million. Public Works has 30 full-time employees and a budget of $13.2 million (which includes road and bridge, solid waste and parks.)

Wetzel also contrasted his salary with other sheriffs in the comparison counties with similar tenure.

“I am 11.4 percent behind the average,” he said. “If I moved up to the same level as the other two large department heads (in Morrison County), it would be $106,758, a 4.6 percent increase. That would still be 6.2 percent behind the average of other sheriffs with similar tenure in our group.”

In three of the last four years, Wetzel’s office has submitted operating budgets lower than the year before.

“The County Board is charged by statute with setting elected official salaries on an annual basis. Many factors are taken into consideration to determine fair and reasonable compensation for those that hold the offices,” said Deb Gruber.