Elected Cass County officials get raisePublished 6:15pm Sunday, December 9, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — With its contraction imminent from 15 to seven members, the question of pay and perks for the downsized Cass County Board of Commissioners divided it 8-6 Thursday night.
Two former chairmen who trace their tenures to the Nixon administration, Democrat Johnie Rodebush and Republican Carl Higley Sr., rebuked remaining members for grabbing 35-percent raises and adding cell phone reimbursements.
“I’ve been here since we had a 36,000 population, got $1,800 and they accused us of dipping into the jam jar,” said Rodebush, of Howard Township. “I don’t feel like your work is going to increase that much. The amount of increase is out of line.”
“I believe Johnie made $8,500 10 years ago” on the last seven-member commission, said Commissioner Dixie Ann File, R-Cassopolis, “then they lowered salaries when 15 came on board.”
“I served on that committee and we met several times,” said former chairman Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township, “and we argued and rehashed how to do that and to be fair to every one. This is fair and just.”
Higley, R-Ontwa Township, “put a pencil to it” and determined it worked out to $850 a month or $212 a week “for a part-time job. That’s pretty good pay, then $10 additional per diem. We’re not meant to make a living wage here. That’s not what this job is, it’s service to the county. We don’t have to do something because another county does. We’re in some of the best financial shape in the state because we’ve been frugal. We can’t tell people we don’t have money for raises, then turn around and do this. Commissioners don’t need cell phones. The prosecutor, sheriff and judges probably need to be instantly available, but we don’t. It’s ridiculous for taxpayers to pay for it.”
An amendment to delete cell phones from the motion failed 8-6.
Rodebush demanded a roll-call vote “because I want to see the whites of their eyes.”
He and Higley were joined in the minority by Skip Dyes, Gordon Bickel, Chair Minnie Warren and Debbie Johnson.
Approving the pay package with cell phones, Motion 138 of 2012, were Cathy Goodenough, Charlie Arnold, Roseann Marchetti, Ron Francis, File, E. Clark Cobb, Robert Ziliak and Wagel.
“In three years this county will be at the point of having to lay off people,” Rodebush predicted.
The ad hoc elected officials salary committee met Dec. 15, 2011; Jan. 19; Feb. 16, March 1, March 15 and Nov. 15 to recommend salaries for elected officials effective Jan. 1, 2013, according to former chairman Ziliak, R-Milton Township.
The first meeting was an organizational session detailing the approach to be taken in researching compensation packages.
The second and third meetings focused primarily on commissioner compensation.
The committee looked at commissioner salaries in Michigan counties that closely resemble Cass County in population, tax base and budget. The committee also recognized head count is being reduced 54 percent from 15 to seven, more than doubling the remaining board’s responsibilities. The committee did not feel wages should be doubled. Also, $20 per diem for attending meetings is low compared to other counties, some of which reimburse $100 if a meeting lasts more than four hours.
After several discussions, the panel unanimously agreed to recommend adjusting commissioner salaries from $7,500 to $10,200 for 2013-14; vice chair, from $7,800 to $10,600; and chair, from $9,000 to $11,600. Per diem will be $30 for chair-appointed, board-appointed, state and other government association committee meetings.
County Administrator Louis Csokasy recommended a per diem increase to $50, which the committee rejected. Township meetings are not eligible for per diem.
Also, commissioners will be reimbursed for personal cell phone usage at the customary county rate of $40 for a standard cell phone. Even with these changes, the county saves almost $37,033 the first year, or $370,330 over the next 10 years before districts are reapportioned again. Other benefits stay the same.
Ziliak said the fourth, fifth and sixth meetings were dedicated to elected officials’ salaries. The fourth meeting commissioners listened to elected officials for input on what they thought salaries should be. At the fifth meeting, the committee concentrated on those comments alongside projected budget challenges.
The clerk-register’s salary led off the sixth meeting. With Barb Runyon ending 25 years with the county and becoming Silver Creek Township clerk later this month, and First Deputy Monica Kennedy succeeding her, the committee considered cutting compensation before keeping it the same.
Overall, the committee recommended 2 percent adjustments — less than Csokasy’s 3 percent recommendation for elected officials, who will make $6,382.30 more in 2013.