Compensation board members say supervisors historically have ignored recommended pay hikes for elected officials.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A new law that goes into effect Jan. 1 will result in a significant increase to the salaries of the Lee County Sheriff and his administrative staff.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Sen. File 342, known more commonly as the Back the Blue Act, on June 17. Rolled into the new law is a mandate to pay county sheriffs a rate comparable to police chiefs in cities of similar population to the respective counties, as well as comparable to Iowa State Patrol professional administrators and command officers, and Dept. of Criminal Investigation administrators and command officers.
However, there is some gray area in how the exact dollar figure for each county will be determined.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and his representative on the Lee County Compensation Board Richard Fehseke spoke to the board at special meeting Monday night.
Fehseke presented a letter to the board that outlined Weber’s current salary, the new legal language and a listing of comparable salaries of the command staff with the Iowa State Patrol.
The average salary of four command officers with the ISP including the public safety chief, two majors and a captain was $128,963. That figure is based on 2020-21 budget years which end on June 30, 2021, and do not reflect budgeted increases that kick in July 1. For the DCI, the average figure for the public safety chief and three assistants was $133,836.
Weber stands to make $90,280 in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021.
Fehseke also presented the salaries of police chiefs in 11 Iowa cities comparable in population to Lee County. The county’s 2019 population number was 33,657.
Bettendorf was closest in size to Lee County at 35,919. The police chief in Bettendorf made $142,572 in 2019. The next closest population city was Marion at 39,328. The chief of police there made $143,000 in 2019. The average police chief salary of those 11 cities was $118,197.
When compiling the figures from all three categories, the average salary would be $126,909, which would amount to an increase of $36,629 per year for Weber.
The other factor to consider is that Weber’s administrative team of Chief Deputy Will Conlee, Captain Craig Burch and Jail Administrator John Canida are all tied to Weber’s salary by Iowa and local codes as a percentage, which would result in lateral increases for all three of those positions.
Although the new law mandates the restructuring of the sheriff’s salary, it does not specifically spell out how the compensation board will come up with a dollar figure, other than to take into consideration the other comparable officer salaries.
“As soon as I knew this was in the bill and it got signed, I notified the auditor because I knew she would have to notify you guys so you knew right away,” Weber told the board.
“I knew this was going to be a headache for everyone.”
Weber said he wasn’t aware of the language about the sheriff’s county salaries until about three weeks before the bill was signed.
Compensation board member Kathy Gabel asked the Lee County Supervisors in attendance what the magic number was, or what they were willing to support.
Four of the five Lee County Supervisors were in the room.
“I would like the budget director to at least tell us how we’re going to make this adjustment if it’s the full amount we have to approve,” asked Supervisor Rick Larkin.
County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom said barring any unforeseen large expenditures, the sheriff’s budget may be able to absorb the higher pay structure.
Compensation Board member Ernie Schiller said Lee County Supervisors have never taken the compensation board’s recommendations seriously.
“I think the whole compensation board would probably agree with me, but the compensation board has been a joke to the board of supervisors forever,” Schiller said.
He said the board should either make a decision or postpone action until Renstrom has compiled all the necessary data for them to make a decision.
The board did table the discussion until two weeks after Renstrom provides data to satisfy the new law. Any changes in salary would be retroactive to July 1.
“The writing’s on the wall. It’s the law. There’s not a lot of back and forth on this. That’s my opinion. If it’s the law, it’s the law.” said Matt Pflug, Lee County Supervisor Chairman.
Supervisor Garry Seyb, Jr. said it was the compensation board’s job, and not the supervisor’s, to come up with a figure that fits the new law. In prior years the law stated that the compensation board should consider setting the salary comparable to other similar size municipal police chiefs, but didn’t mandate it. The new law says the compensation board ‘shall’ set the salary.
“I’m only one member, but I really don’t think that’s our place. I don’t think the (supervisors) should be giving you a number. The state’s given you a formula to use,” Seyb said.
Board member Larry Kruse said the compensation board should document which salaries they are using to calculate a figure and then turn it over to the Board of Supervisors to approve.
“Put that together and give that to them, that’s basically following the law, and they have no choice but to approve that,” Kruse said.