By Ivan Raconteur
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN A proposed 2010 salary increase of 2.5 percent for non-union county employees proved a divisive issue for the Wright County Board.
The board considered the issue during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Commissioner Jack Russek read the minutes of the Nov. 17 budget committee of the whole meeting, the subject of which was the proposed increase.
During that meeting, Board Chair Pat Sawatzke said the union contracts have been settled for 2010 with a 2.5 percent increase.
He questioned whether other counties have been successful in renegotiating union contracts due to the economy.
County Coordinator Dick Norman said he was not aware of any such cases.
Sawatzke said the public is watching what government does during these difficult economic times, and said he did not think that a 2.5 percent increase for county employees would go over well with citizens.
The discussion during the committee meeting centered on the issue of union employees receiving pay increases, while non-union employees did not.
Comments from department heads suggested that county employees should not be punished for the state of the economy.
It was also noted that the department heads and the board have worked to cut spending in other areas of the budget.
Sawatzke said the county’s proposed levy reflects an increase of 7.2 percent, “which is higher than Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns County combined.”
County Attorney Tom Kelly said the levy includes the new jail/law enforcement center, and citizens should be aware of that.
Sawatzke said that, “as a taxpayer, it does not matter what causes an increase, it is still an increase.”
He added that he believes county taxpayers would support a wage freeze for county employees.
Sawatzke said Wright County was one of the few counties that have not laid anyone off.
Russek said he “would not vote in any way to give one employee less of a raise than another. Every employee is important.”
Commissioner Rose Thelen said “county employees should not have to take cuts to make up for other budget issues.”
Commissioner Dick Mattson said 535 people in his district have lost their jobs, and he was not willing to accept a 2.5 percent increase for county employees in 2010.
He said the county has to understand that people are suffering, and he is concerned about what is going to happen in the future.
Thelen questioned how much the 2.5 percent increase for non-union employees would cost.
Norman said it would cost about $200,000 in wages.
Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg said if the county is not willing to renegotiate with the unions, he is not in favor of cutting an increase for non-union employees.
The discussion continued along similar lines during Tuesday’s board meeting, and ended with the board approving a 2.5 percent pay increase for non-union employees on a 3-2 vote, with Russek, Thelen, and Eichelberg in favor and Sawatzke and Mattson opposed.
Snowplow operators recognized
The board acknowledged Wright County snowplow operators Shannon Wolff and Bruce Bersie for their accomplishments during the Snow Fighters Roadeo Oct. 7 and 8 in St. Cloud.
The event was part of the annual fall maintenance expo that city, county, state, and tribal agencies together to sharpen operators’ skills, share information, and help them prepare for winter.
Wolff finished fifth and Bersie finished seventh out of 108 competitors, which included county, city, and MnDOT snowplow operators.
Traffic signal request denied
The board denied a request from MnDOT and the City of Buffalo to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Highway 25 and County Road 12 in Buffalo.
The board had previously denied the request four years ago.
The current request to add a signal at the intersection as part of the County Road 12 improvement project received mixed reactions from the board.
Russek and Mattson said they have not changed their minds about the need for the signal.
A motion to send the request to a transportation committee of the whole meeting failed on a vote of 3-2, with Thelen and Eichelberg in favor, and Russek, Sawatzke, and Mattson opposed.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• acknowledged a $285,771 dividend from the League of Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust, including $130,465 from workers’ compensation coverage and $155,306 from property/casualty coverage.
• authorized signatures on a two-year state snowmobile supplemental grant agreement in the amount of $13,462. The grant is administered by the DNR and provides for extra enforcement shifts during evenings, weekends, and holidays during snowmobiling season.
• adopted a resolution of support for the new federal transportation bill.
• approved a request to allow the DNR to install groundwater monitoring wells on two county properties.
• authorized a current county employee to assist the assessor’s office from Jan. 1 to March 1, 2010.
• scheduled a review of a proposed dangerous dog ordinance Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 9 a.m.
• scheduled a transportation committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the public works building.