Last week Jasper County Supervisor Doug Cupples had a great idea — a zero percent increase in wages for elected officials. The reason why it is a great idea is that it captures a sense of fiscal responsibility on a long, unknown road of state aid.
In the end, Cupples relented, as did the other two county supervisors. Elected officials (auditor, treasurer, recorder and sheriff) received a 2.5 percent raise and the county attorney received a 3 percent raise. County department heads received a 2.1 percent increase and all other county employees received a 2.9 percent increase to match union increases. The board of supervisors did refrain from accepting a salary hike themselves.
In years in which governments can predict reasonable and steady revenue and no lingering cuts, it’s not uncommon to hand out a cost of living increase (2 percent this year). The supervisors, however, like all county and municipal governments, are well aware of looming cuts to the state’s backfill program. These payments began in 2015 to help local governments make up for loss in revenue after former Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2013 commercial property tax cuts went into effect. Factoring in all Iowa cities, townships, schools and counties, the state reported $153.11 million in payouts to local governments in fiscal year 2017. But these funds could now be on the chopping block as state lawmakers look for ways to ease revenue shortfall
The Iowa Senate Wednesday passed a $35 million budget cut for the current fiscal year in a 28-21 vote. It’s now going to the governor’s desk for her signature. Backfill payments were spared in this round of cuts — the big losers here are higher education and state government agencies — but local governments might not be that fortunate in the coming budget.
The county could have endured a year of pay freezes to prepare for any cuts to the $1.2 million in county funds granted by the backfill money. It’s anything but promised in coming years, likely to be phased out over a four-year period. The backfill is a huge chunk of funding that could mean cuts to county services. At least for this year, the supervisors have kicked the can down the road approving more than $110,861 in raises.
It’s no secret top county employees are not underpaid. It’s also widely known the benefits are excellent compared to most private companies. These aspects should be remembered when considering raises that could very well contribute to a cut in county services over the coming years.
Elected county officials earn a high salary for public service position that require their education and expertise, as do county department heads.
With the state in a financial crisis — and the imminent backfill phase out — the supervisors should have shown a willingness to sacrifice a raise for department heads and top county leaders. This would convey to every non-elected county employee their position is valued, the supervisors are trying to keep their jobs secure and are willing to make a sacrifice.
In this budget climate, it’s responsible to be proactive, not reactive.