2018-02-22 / Views

Let’s look at county wages

Is it time to increase the pay for county commissioners?

Maybe.

Surprised to hear that from us?

It very well may be the first time we’ve suggested higher wages for elected officials. We’ve opposed a handful through the years but stayed mostly neutral on increases, figuring in the case of townships that residents ultimately have a hand in the outcome.

But the salaries of members of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners have not changed in at least 20 years. Previous to that, our recollection of past articles grows hazy. But it was some time in the mid-1990s, we believe, when commissioners last put more money in their own pockets.

The base salary since then has been $5,000 per seat on the County Board, with the chair receiving an extra $2,700. Per diem — pay for attending meetings — varied between zero for commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little, who chose to not accept the compensation, to $2,470 for Melinda Lautner. She’s also the longest-serving commissioner.

At one time there was a push to pay more to attract more and younger candidates to run. We hold little confidence in the connection between higher wages and larger fields of candidates unless the thought is to double or triple compensation, which we would not support.

We’re talking about adding $1,000 or so to the bottom line — not a lot of money, but enough to open a lid that’s been shut tight for a long time.

Commissioners are offered health insurance or a buyout equal to 50 percent of the typical worth of a policy.

The values are substantial. For instance, the health insurance policy for commissioner Debra Rushton is worth $9,760, while her salary and per-diem payments only add up to $7,700.

But the “50 percent buyout” provision only pays Soutas- Little, Lautner and commissioner Ty Wessell $5,656 each.

Health insurance should be included in a discussion about wages. We’d suggest equalizing the worth of hospitalization between those who take the policy and those who don’t.

You would have to consider an increase in the buy-out as a raise, and a decrease in health insurance compensation as an overall loss of wages. From there, it’s a matter of math.

And you would need to set a time in the future for the changes. It’s too late to change salaries for commissioners who will be seated on Jan. 1, 2019.

But it’s a good time to begin a discussion leading to a process that would crack open the lid on commissioner compensation.

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