Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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County supervisors may get pay raise

by Rob Ireland

May 23, 2013

ELKHORN — An ordinance narrowly failed at the Walworth County Board meeting that would have increased supervisor pay by $100 a month. The chairperson would have received a $200 a month pay increase.

However, the increase may be approved next month.

Changing supervisor pay needs eight votes for approval, and it failed on a 7-3 vote. Supervisors Tim Brellenthin, Ken Monroe and Carl Redenius voted against it. Any pay change wouldn't take affect until after the 2014 elections.

During the meeting, County Administrator David Bretl said there is a blank ordinance affecting supervisor pay, and if the supervisors didn't approve something, they would end up working for free during their next term.

"If you don't decide tonight you will have to come up with a number before November," Bretl said.

After the measure failed, the board tabled further action until next month.

Supervisor Richard Brandl wasn't at the May 14 meeting, and, assuming all the others supervisors vote the same, he could be the swing vote to approve the pay increase.

On Monday, Brandl said he does support a pay increase for supervisors.

"I'm normally pretty conservative, but I think whoever is going to be there deserves an increase," Brandl said. "I think its time to do it, and it will probably be another 10 years before it gets done again."

Brandl said the position requires a lot of time for supervisors who field phone calls and letters.

Supervisors currently earn $500 a month and the chairperson receives $1,000 a month.

"I think the board needs that, they have earned it," Supervisor Jerry Grant, of Whitewater said of the increase.

Supervisor Joe Schaefer, of Lyons, said he was paid more for his work as a supervisor when he was first elected than he is today. Schaefer, the longest-serving board member, was elected to the board in 1974.

"I was making a heck of a lot more in the 1970s and 1980s," he said.

In the 1980s Schaefer said board members were paid for each committee meeting that they attended.

After the meeting, County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said the board created a flat pay rate to improve transparency. She said, although she didn't believe this was happening, the public might think the supervisors were meeting excessively to increase their wages.

Grant also said supervisors don't receive benefits for their work.

"Up until the 1990s we had complete health insurance, we did get criticized for that, and we got rid of it," Schaefer said.

During the debate on pay raises, Supervisor Tim Schiefelbein was the first supervisor to voice opposition.

"I would be opposed to an increase in supervisor salaries," Supervisor Tim Brellenthin, of rural Elkhorn said.

Supervisor Rick Stacey, of rural East Troy, said his first response is to agree with Brellenthin.

However, he said the amount of time supervisors spend doing their jobs is incredible.

"It is a lot of travel, and it is a lot of speaking to constituents," Stacey said. "There is a lot of work involved."

Supervisor David Weber, of Williams Bay, said it is a question of respect for the position.

"None of us are running for office for the level of compensation," Weber said.

Some of the supervisors argued for a pay raise for the chairwoman and not the supervisors.

"I would support an increase for the chair, but I would be against it for the supervisors," Carl Redenius, of the town of Richmond, said.

Supervisor Tim Schiefelbein said he declines to take his pay, but voted in favor of the ordinance because he said his peers on the board work hard and deserve a salary increase.

"To operate at this level takes a lot of commitment," Schiefelbein said.

The work involved

After the meeting, Russell opened up her calendar and showed meetings that she planned on attending.

Nearly everyday had at least one meeting, most had more.

She said attending meetings only scratches the surface of her job. There is a lot reading and telephone calls at home. She said she probably spends close to 40 hours a week working on county board issues.

Russell said she became the chairwoman in 2007, and she has served on the board since 2002.

Her workload dramatically increased when she became the chairwoman, she said.

Attendance required

Can a supervisor get elected, collect a paycheck and not work?

"We usually don't have that problem," Russell said. "This board has really good attendance." However, Russell and Bretl said if the situation came up, the board has an ordinance that will allow it to remove an absent supervisor.

Bretl said a supervisor can be removed for missing two consecutive board meetings and three consecutive committee meetings without an excuse.

Russell said it is rare for a board member not to show up to a meeting without her knowing about it ahead of time.