By Jim Magdefrau
VINTON – It took two meetings over four days for the Benton County Compensation Board to come up with a recommendation for elected officials’ salaries for the next fiscal year. They recommended an increase of 8.3 percent for the officials, with the supervisor chairman getting an additional $5,000 stipend.
On Monday, Jan. 9, the board met at the service center in Vinton. Each elected official chooses a representative to be on the compensation board.
The representative for the supervisors at that meeting was Jennifer Zahradnik, Luzerne, who was chosen by the supervisors as a last-minute replacement.
At that meeting, Zahradnik brought up motions for the salaries of each elected official. These were voted on separately. Instead of percentage increases, she asked for dollars amounts, with $2,500 for the supervisors with the chairman getting a stipend of $2,500. She recommended a raise of $3,500 for the county attorney, $7,000 for the auditor, $6,500 for treasurer and recorder and $8,000 for sheriff. The compensation board approved the recommendations on each of these. These were invalidated three nights later by the compensation board.
Benton County Attorney Ray Lough met with the Benton County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, and advised the board that Zahradnik should have been disqualified from serving on the compensation board, citing the Iowa Code 331.905.2. The code states, “The members of the county compensation board shall not be officers or employees of the state or a political subdivision of the state.” Lough said he checked with the attorney general’s office on this, who agreed she was disqualified from serving on the board. Lough pointed to her being a city attorney, serving on the civil service board, and being appointed to the landfill commission.
At a special meeting on Thursday morning, Jan. 11, Supervisor Richard Primmer suggested that Mike Barnes, Vinton, and Mark Zahradnik, Luzerne, be selected to represent the supervisors on the Benton County Compensation Board. They were approved, 3-0. The supervisors get two representatives on the board.
The compensation board met again Thursday evening at the service center.
At that meeting, Lough advised he wanted there to be proper protocol. He also stressed the compensation board does not set the salaries, it makes recommendations. The recommendation is the upper limit on what the salary can be. The supervisors may adopt or reduce this, and if they reduce, they have to reduce the same amount for all elected officials. Lough also advised that in making recommendations, they are to compare officials with similar offices in other counties, state and federal officials, as well as the private sector.
The board then invalidated the recommendations from the Monday night meeting. They also discussed the salaries being approved as a group instead of individually.
Mark Zahradnik felt all of the elected officials were well compensated for what they do as public employees. “I don’t think anybody in here is living paycheck to paycheck,” he observed. He made a motion for a raise of 2.75 percent for the county attorney. This was voted down. The next motion was to raise the county attorney’s salary 9.5 percent. This didn’t receive a second, so a raise of 8.3 percent was proposed. On a show of hands, it was approved, 4-3.
Then they continued office by office. There was a motion for 9 percent for the auditor, which was voted down. They then approved an 8.3 percent recommendation. Treasurer was also recommended to receive an 8.3 percent increase. They used 8.3 percent for the recorder and sheriff also.
The supervisors were also recommended to receive a raise of 8.3 percent, with the chairman getting an additional stipend of $5,000 for the additional meetings and travel involved with being chairman.
The supervisors will act on the recommendation at a later meeting when it approves the budget for 2023-24.
First compensation board meeting – Jan. 9, 2023
Supervisors approve representatives for compensation board – Jan. 12, 2023
Second Compensation board meeting – Jan. 12, 2023