Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Jan. 3, 2000

Sheriff gets 13.5% salary increase

By John Holler

Everybody likes to get a raise thanks to experience and job duties, but when is a raise too high?

That was the issue that split the Wright County Board at its final meeting of 1999, as the commissioners had to set the 2000 salary for Sheriff Don Hozempa. Hozempa had asked for a second hearing on his salary after it had been set at a personnel committee of the whole meeting a week earlier.

The committee, which is made up of all five commissioners and County Coordinator Dick Norman, had recommended that Hozempa receive a 6 percent raise to $79,524. However, Hozempa asked that it be reconsidered. A new figure - $84,668, which represents a 13.5 percent raise - was approved by a majority of the committee, but obviously not all.

"We had considered all the factors that came into play on this and set a salary that we felt was fair," Board Chair Pat Sawatzke said. "To have this revisited isn't consistent with what we did for the other elected department heads and could set a precedent."

Commissioner Jack Russek agreed with Sawatzke, but the other three commissioners did not - voting in favor of the increase. Commissioner Dick Mattson said Hozempa had requested a meeting with the board prior to the personnel committee meeting to discuss why he felt the increase was justified, but the committee never met with him - giving him the right to ask for a second hearing.

Auditor/Treasurer Doug Gruber, whose salary was set at the same meeting, said that if Hozempa's salary was sent back for review, all elected officials salaries should have been sent back.

However, it was unlikely that any increases would have been given elsewhere and Gruber's salary was begun in 1999, near the top end of the auditor/treasurer salary scale, despite Gruber having no prior experience at the position. Until the 1998 November elections, Gruber had been the county assessor and did not have to start at the bottom of the auditor/treasurer pay scale, despite having no experience in the position.

Commissioner Ken Jude said that Hozempa's salary really wasn't an issue, saying, "If you look at how the salary will come out over the next three years, the county will probably save a couple of hundred dollars. He just wanted more of it up front than spread out over time."

Because of state law, elected department head salaries are subject to renewal every year and Hozempa can request another raise above and beyond the standard 3 percent cost of living increase given each year. If the county and any elected department head dispute a salary being set, the only recourse is to take the matter to court - which was avoided by the board's action.

The board voted 3-2 to approve Hozempa's increase, with Sawatzke and Russek voting against it.

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