“Back the Blue” law spells out Compensation Board’s requirement to recommend bump to Weber’s pay
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Compensation Board recommended Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber get a 45% raise, and all other county elected officials get a 10% increase beginning July 1, 2022.
A state law signed earlier this year nicknamed “Back to Blue” spelled out a change in how compensation boards were to set the salary of county sheriffs. The law didn’t issue mandates for any other county employees.
The law, Senate File 342, changed the wording of Iowa Code from the compensation board “should consider setting” the sheriff’s salary comparable to other law enforcement command officers in the state, to the board “shall set” the sheriff’s salary comparably.
The move amounted to a mandate for the recommending boards to increase the salaries in the command structure of the county sheriff’s departments.
However, the law stops short of mandating that county Boards of Supervisors follow the recommendation, and as Supervisor Ron Fedler told the panel Wednesday night, the Lee County Board of Supervisors has the final say in what those salary increases look like.
Fedler said he talked with Jamie Cashman, who is a government relations manager for Iowa State Association of Counties, who gave clarification that the compensation board is mandated to do what the law says, but the law does not take away supervisors’ authority to lower whatever the compensation board recommends.
“They are not mandated. The board of supervisors under home rule has the authority to lower (the recommendation). We can’t raise it, but we can lower it,” Fedler said.
Supervisors are obligated, however, to reduce the recommendations the same amount across all departments. In other words, any percentage the supervisors lower the recommendation for the sheriff would have to be applied to all elected officials equally.
Fedler said he has backed the needs of the sheriff’s department for five years including additional staffing and computer equipment, but the county has other elected officials that have equal value.
The board approved a 45% increase for Weber, which will also trigger increases for Chief Deputy Will Conlee, Capt. Craig Burch, and Jail Administrator John Canida, who are tied by policy to Weber’s salary. The board also approved a 10% increase for all other elected officials in the county.
So now the ball is in the court of the supervisors who have to balance a budget while considering those recommendations. Under Iowa Code, if Supervisors drop the recommendation for the sheriff by half that would be a 22.5% increase in his salary, he would see a $22,250 raise per year. All other county elected officials would see a 5% increase in their salaries.
Last year the board approved a 3% across the board increase. If they stick to that number again this year, all elected officials aside from Weber, would get a 3% increase, and he would see a 15% increase or $13,500. Conlee, Burch, and Canida would also see a 15% increase in pay.
All raises have to be approved by the March 15 budget deadline and would go into effect July 1, 2022. Supervisors enter budget hearings in January and February.
Fort Madison attorney Rich Fehseke, who represents Weber on the Compensation board, said he pulled 2019 salary and population data from a total of 10 cities and counties that were closest in population to Lee County and then included the salaries of command officers with the Iowa State Patrol and the DCI. He then averaged those salaries and came up with a figure that represented an increase of 45.5% to Weber’s current salary of $90,000 per year.
“It’s a problem from a budgetary standpoint because it’s a very significant increase, but it’s not from a PR standpoint because our discretion’s been whittled down. We’re very narrow in what we’re allowed by statute,” Fehseke said.
Compensation Board member Teresa Murray said she didn’t agree with the code, but admits it’s a mandate.
“I really don’t agree with this part because it specifically states chiefs employed by cities similar in population to Lee County, and you’re not the administrator over Keokuk and Fort Madison. But that’s not what the code says and we have to go by what the code says,” Murray said.
Weber said his department regularly provides services to Keokuk and Fort Madison, in addition to serving warrants and holding criminals from those cities in the Lee County Jail.
Fehseke said the formula being used gets the Lee County Sheriff’s administrators’ wages to a level that makes their jobs attractive and helps keep the best people.
Board chairman Larry Kruse, a former Lee County Supervisor, said the county has maxed out its general fund tax levy so they can’t increase that to compensate for the additional salary request. He said the county would have to find cuts elsewhere or face reductions in staffing.
Other elected officials including Lee County Treasurer Chris Spann, Lee County Attorney Ross Braden, Auditor Denise Fraise, and Recorder Nancy Booten all made cases for their departments and the staffing crunches they are facing, and challenges from relative legislative changes in elections, licensing, as well as the effects of the pandemic.
Braden’s assistant county attorneys are tied to his salary as well.