BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A recommending board to the Lee County Board of Supervisors has set a max 3% increase for the next fiscal year for the County Assessor’s office.
Lee County Assessor Theresa Murray was looking for a 4% increase for her and department deputies, but the Lee County Conference Board passed a motion to set the max amount at 3% and 2.5% for deputies.
After about a 30-minute conversation on Murray’s salary, West Point Mayor Paul Walker, who sits on the board, made a motion to set a 3% max and 2% for hourly employees in the department. The recommendation now goes to the Lee County Board of Supervisors, all of whom sit on the Conference Board, where public hearings on the budgets are set prior to approvals.
In a letter to the Conference Board, Murray indicated the Lee County Conservation Board had recommended a 3% increase for supervisors; 7% increase for the County Attorney, 11% for Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise; 13% increase for Lee County Recorder Nancy Booten, 3% increase for the Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber; and 12% increase for Lee County Treasurer Chris Spann. The recommendations still have to be parsed by the board of supervisors before finalizing the budget.
Murray said her salary ranks 33rd in the state of Iowa and she is appointed not elected. She said her position is more akin to the county attorney or engineer because her position requires additional training by code and therefore the increase is warranted.
Walker and several other department heads in the audience took exception to the comparison.
“I don’t care if you’re elected or not, you can’t tell me that these people don’t have to be educated and trained to do their jobs,” Walker said.
Walker also said the numbers being kicked around for raises in the county would be hard for him to swallow.
“I run a city, too and it would be very difficult for me to say here, ‘Ok, we’re gonna give you a 10% raise’ and then tell my city, “Ok you get at 2% increase.”
Booten also took offense to Murray’s statement.
“I don’t have a reason for them not getting a raise,” Booten said of the Assessors team. “But I think it insinuates that we’re not as smart because we don’t have to take a test. Anyone can come in with a two-year degree and take the assessor’s test and get those jobs and that’s happening. Denise and Chris both worked in the office and they learned their job. For myself, I’ve taken many exams in my life and I always have to take continuing education. Those gave me the experience to do my job. It doesn’t make me any less smart. What we’re talking about is running a department.”
“The discrepancy came when we tried to make department heads closer in pay, but when a deputy gets more than someone that runs a department that makes it look like we’re not getting paid what we should. We run the departments and handle a staff and do the budgets.
“The four of us work well together,” Murray said. “So I don’t want to this to have any hard feelings. I just wanted to explain…why that is. We set the tax base and we have look at all houses and be comparable, we have to decide values. There’s just so much we have to do.”
“When we talk to the general public we get that you’re being paid very well. But if you really want to rev it up throw those big numbers around and we’ll get people calling. And they call us,” board member Matt Pflug said.
Board member Ron Fedler said when the compensation board comes in with all kinds of different numbers it puts the supervisors in a bad spot.
“All county positions are important and the best we can do is try to find a compromise that works best for the county. But sometimes it’s difficult to find that compromise.”
Murray also asked that pay for people that sit on the Assessors’ Review Board be bumped to $200 per day over the current $100 a day to help attract new members.
A public hearing was set for April on the budget.
The board also heard from Lee County Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Cirrina about his department’s budget. Cirinna indicated during discussions that he would be retiring in the next year or two and the board should consider hiring an assistant to be trained to take over for Cirinna at some point.