LEE COUNTY – Elected officials in Lee County will get a cost-of-living increase if the recommendations of the Lee County Compensation Board are followed.
The board met for its annual review Wednesday evening at the sheriff’s office in Montrose and recommended a 3% increase in salary for the county’s Auditor, Recorder, Treasurer, and Supervisors, while advocating for a 2% increase in the sheriff’s salary and an $8,000 increase in the salary of Lee County Attorney Ross Braden.
The board decided on a dollar amount for the county attorney because Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said Braden’s salary should be above his because Braden is the county’s top law enforcement officer.
The $8,000 increase recommendation would put Braden about $300 over Weber’s salary including his 2% increase.
Any increase in Weber’s salary also applies to his three administrators including Chief Deputy Will Conlee, Capt. Craig Burch, and Jail Administrator John Canida at varying levels.
The same dynamic applies to deputies of the other elected officials who are tied to the elected officials’ salary.
The Compensation board recommended 7% increases in 2022 a year after they recommended a 42% increase for Weber following code of the newly implemented Back the Blue law.
However, this year, the compensation board didn’t follow that code, which is still in effect, and required Weber to provide a 3-page document outlining where other law enforcement administrators in similarly populated communities around the state are at with respect to salary.
Weber’s current salary is $135,489 annually after an adjustment made in 2021 per an Iowa code signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds. Weber compared salaries of police chiefs in Marion, Cedar Falls, Bettendorf, Marshalltown, and Mason City resulting in a mean average of $151,735. The mean average of the state administrators was $151,910. That would create an increase of $16,334 which would be more than 12%.
“That would be well over a 10% increase, which I know is ridiculous to expect, especially considering our budget’s not the best, but I’m still required by code to present this to you,” Weber said.
Braden made a case to the board for a 5% increase saying his office handles as many cases as Des Moines County but runs with two full-time attorneys less than that county. He said four full-time attorneys work hard, but they can handle the county's case load when fully staffed.
However, they are currently working with three attorneys and haven’t had much luck attracting a fourth. That salary isn’t currently being paid and the other attorneys, Justin Stonerook and Amy Beavers, have picked up the slack. Braden said he'd like to reward that effort along with making the position more attractive to attorneys.
“Most attorneys coming out of college now don’t want to work in public service, they want to go to larger law firms and the bigger paychecks,” he said.
The other elected officials said their deputies are attached to their salaries, as well, and they don’t want to leave their deputies without a pay increase. But they understand the condition of the county’s budget.
Last year the county had to borrow two million dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funding to meet obligations and they won’t be able to do that next year. The state has also mandated that counties set their general levy rate at $3.50 by the year 2029, which has many counties now working in that direction.
The recommendations now will go in front of the Lee County Board of Supervisors for approval. If the board reduces any of the rates by a percentage, they must reduce all of the recommendations at the same rate, with the exception of the Supervisors themselves. The board cannot increase the recommendations of the Comp. board, but they can lower them, and supervisors can forego their raise without impacting the other elected officials.
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