Resident scolds county board for voting to raise pay

by Paul Rignell

Contributing writer

Sherburne County commissioners began their 2013 schedule of business Jan. 8 each with an increase of 2 percent in their base salaries.

Commissioners Rachel Leonard, Felix Schmiesing and Ewald Petersen voted for the raise Dec. 11, and were joined in a 4-1 majority decision by Larry Farber, who served through 2012 but lost his seat for the new term to retired county sheriff, Bruce Anderson, in November’s election. Commissioner John Riebel, who had won re-election along with Leonard and Schmiesing, declined to support the raise in pay.

One county resident, Elaine Philippi of Baldwin Township, addressed the board at the new year’s first meeting to tell Leonard, Schmiesing and Petersen she was disappointed in their salary vote. She thanked Riebel for voting the other way.

The commissioners’ raises match a 2-percent increase that was approved for all other county workers in 2012, yet the county still was able to enter 2013 with no increase in its levy, just as it kept taxes flat in other recent years.

Philippi asked the board to begin this year with an aim for actually lowering the levy in 2014, maybe by one-half percent. She said others working in both the private and public sectors have gone years without raises. Philippi is employed as a program counselor providing overnight care at a group home.

After her previous night’s shift ended at 6 a.m., she told the board that she spent part of her time before their 9 a.m. meeting by shopping for groceries at an area market. She said she heard from workers in one of the store’s departments that they were getting cuts in their hours, while another employee said she had received no raise in five years. Philippi said she, too, has gone five years without a raise.

“Lots of us are very much struggling,” she told the board.

She noted that she understands further cuts in funding would affect workers who have been important to county operations, as she herself is a public sector worker being employed by the state.

Commissioner Petersen said it is not a favorite vote when the board must consider its own pay. “It’s kind of uncomfortable having to go through that every year, with us determining what the salary will be,” he said. “It gets pretty touchy,” he later told the Star News in further comments after the meeting.

He noted the board took a two-week furlough from pay along with other county workers in 2009 before starting the streak for flat levies.

The commissioners’ annual base pay is now at $38,406 each for multiple monthly meetings at the Government Center along with other county work, but Petersen said employees’ higher Social Security taxes that resulted from the federal fiscal cliff deal are essentially erasing those raises from the board’s net incomes just as other workers have begun 2013 with more wages returning to Washington.