Dave Baker said he wanted the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors to “send a message” when he laid out his proposal for salary increases for county elected officials.
A message was sent, all right. Maybe a couple of them. But not necessarily the one that Supervisor Baker intended.
The county supervisors voted, 2-1, on Wednesday to reduce the recommended raises for five other county elected officials — to 3% for the sheriff and 1.5% for the county attorney, auditor, treasurer and recorder.
That’s a fraction — one-fourth, to be exact — of the increases recommended by the Dubuque County Compensation Board, whose members suggested a 12% pay hike for the sheriff and 6% for the other officials.
By law, if supervisors seek to reduce the proposed increases, the cuts must be commensurate with the recommendations of the board. So once Baker deemed 3% as the ideal raise for the sheriff, the increase for the other positions had to follow suit by being dialed back 75%.
Therein lay the message. Baker acknowledged that he was disappointed with the compensation board’s recommendations when they came in late last year. The supervisors had in the past shown no appetite for a double-digit percentage increase, yet that’s what was recommended.
The thing is, the compensation board was playing the hand it was dealt in the best way it could.
This same conversation has played out for years. Under state code, the compensation board members are citizen volunteers, each chosen by an elected official to advocate on behalf of that official.
Everyone is advocating for a bigger salary for someone. That’s the members’ mission. Their criteria for determining the recommendation is to look at the county’s rank by population (Dubuque is eighth currently) and where the elected official ranks compared with his or her peers in other counties.
Under the advisement of the county attorney, that’s all this board believes it should be considering. The sheriff ranks 11th in pay, so the board recommends an increase that would get him up to eighth.
Last year, when a similar situation arose, the compensation board and supervisors negotiated a compromise. Not this year.
Instead, Baker recommended the much smaller increases. Supervisor Ann McDonough argued that the raises were too low, and Supervisor Jay Wickham attempted to find some middle ground. But with the adversarial nature of the supervisors’ interactions, that discussion didn’t gain too much traction.
So the compensation board got a message from Baker (and Wickham, who cast the other vote in favor): It doesn’t really matter what you recommend.
Curiously, there was one salary recommendation that the supervisors didn’t touch — their own.
The compensation board suggested a 2.8% increase for the county supervisors. That recommendation is not required to move proportionately to the others.
Instead, while the county recorder, auditor, attorney and treasurer receive increases of just 1.5%, the supervisors will get 2.8%.
That sends a message, all right.