116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / Local Government
Linn County elected officials would get raises of 10 percent or more under compensation board’s recommendation
Three-member Board of Supervisors may accept or decrease recommendations later
CEDAR RAPIDS — In a bid to recruit and retain qualified workers to Linn County while grappling with record-high inflation, the panel that recommends pay rates for certain elected officials suggested bumping salaries 12 percent for the county sheriff and attorney, and 10 percent for others.
The seven-member Linn County Compensation Board, with one member absent, advanced the recommendation Monday. In their pitches for a raise in fiscal 2024 — the budget year spanning July 1 through June 30, 2024 — several elected officials shared struggles to attract qualified talent to open county jobs and to compete with private sector pay.
The supervisors can OK the recommendations or decrease all of them by the same amount. The board also can lower its own pay independent of the other elected officials’ salaries.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said the state’s Back the Blue law requires the compensation board to recommend sheriffs be paid “comparable to salaries paid to professional law enforcement administrators and command officers of the state patrol, the Division of Criminal Investigation of the Department of Public Safety, and city police chiefs employed by cities of similar population to the population of the county.”
In Gardner’s case, his comparable figure is Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman. Because Jerman receives a salary of $188,386 and anticipates receiving a 3 percent pay increase that is already baked into the city budget, Gardner asked for a 10.21 percent pay bump to his $176,062 salary.
Anticipating the supervisors would offer raises lower than that, Gardner suggested the compensation board recommend an even higher pay bump of 22 percent so his actual raise would be more in line with his request.
“I don't mean to demean this process, but it's the reality that it’s kind of a game,” Gardner said. “You folks recommend what you believe we all are entitled to receive. You do so in good faith. It goes on to the Board of Supervisors, and for many reasons — some unfortunately political in nature — those pay raise suggestions are sometimes zeroed out and are often, more often than not, reduced.”
Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks, seeking an 11 percent raise to his salary of $199,712, said his office has worked in the face of “unprecedented increases in crime.” He said there has been a spike of 300 percent or more in violent crime and gun offenses, such as homicides and attempted murders or intimidation with a dangerous weapon, in recent years.
The county’s felony attorneys, from February through November, were juggling an average active caseload of 126 per month and 196 for the year. That is above the 150 felony cases per felony prosecutor yearly load Maybanks said is recommended by the American Bar Association.
“Retaining prosecutors with extensive experience and with intimate knowledge of their community and the issues it faces assures this important function” of authorizing charges, seeking sentences and resolving cases “is being served by the most competent, trustworthy and accountable lawyers and personnel possible,” Maybanks said.
Additionally, Maybanks and other elected officials argued their pay is tied directly to the compensation of their deputies. The salary of the first and second deputy within an elected official’s office can’t exceed 85 percent of the annual salary of the elected official, under Iowa Code.
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, who announced earlier this month he would not seek re-election in November 2024, recommended a 10 percent increase.
Because he is not seeking re-election to the role, which includes administering elections within the county, Miller said the auditor’s pay should be high enough to attract qualified candidates.
Miller also noted plans to convert two deputy auditors to management positions — instead of three as he previously announced — decoupling them from his elected official salary. Only his first deputy’s salary would be affected by this decision.
Iowa’s 2021 election law changes had a “drastic effect” on the election environment, Miller said. The bill, among other things, cut the state’s early voting period by more than half from 40 days to 19 and requires that all early ballots be received by local elections officials by the time polls close on Election Day.
“I think we have a real challenge in front of us for whoever it is we’re going to attract,” Miller said. “ … Is salary going to be a detriment to someone wanting to run for office, or is it going to be one of the reasons to run for office?”
The recorder and treasurer also asked for a 10 percent pay bump, which would bring their salaries and the auditor’s from $124,967 to $137,464.
“We’re all real people,” said Treasurer Brent Oleson, a former supervisor. “What you decide and ultimately what the Board of Supervisors decides all affects us as real people.”
The three-member Board of Supervisors did not vote to make a formal recommendation to increase their salaries of $124,967.
In Johnson County, the compensation board recommended a 10 percent boost for the treasurer, auditor and five supervisors; a 16 percent bump for the county attorney; and 12 percent for the sheriff.
On the low end of comparable counties, Scott County’s panel suggested a 5 percent bump for the sheriff and 3.5 percent for other officials. Generally, other comparable counties’ compensation boards recommended pay increases in the high single digits to low double digits.
Chair Ray Stefani II said he is frustrated that the panel appointed by county department heads typically recommends boosting pay, “only to have it cut back as if we don’t know what we’re talking about” when the supervisors vote on salaries.
“The supervisors are always worried about politics instead of doing what should be done,” Stefani said.
Oleson said pay bumps for elected officials tend to be a “third rail” in local politics, but he anticipates the public may be more understanding this year because of inflationary pressures.
Supervisor Ben Rogers said a 4.5 percent pay increase already is factored into the budget, but beyond that, a raise would have to be made up in departments’ budgets. The alternative would be to raise taxes to provide raises beyond that amount.
Finance Director Dawn Jindrich said a 1 percent increase for all elected officials and deputies would cost about $40,000 — a small share of the county’s approximately $95 million general fund budget, totaling less than 0.5 percent.
“This budget year, outside of a natural disaster, has probably been the most challenging,” Rogers said.
Comments: (319) 398-8494; firstname.lastname@example.org