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Salary comparison for county officials in southwest Minnesota

WORTHINGTON -- The Murray County commissioners opted for the third year in a row to freeze their annual salary at $18,544, something they said they did to help meet their budget and so they could take better care of their county employees. They also decided to leave their per diem amount at $80 per meeting.

Even though the salary has not changed in several years, Murray County is second highest behind only Cottonwood County commissioners in the Daily Globe's Minnesota county coverage area: Cottonwood, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock counties. Cottonwood County commissioners gave themselves a 2 percent raise for 2011, for an annual salary of $18,870.

The Pipestone County commissioners left their salary and per diem the same as it has been for the past several years.

Rock County commissioners also opted not to give themselves a raise for the coming year, according to Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre. He said their annual salary of $15,250 has been in place for at least the past four years. As for per diems, they can collect $50 per half-day and $75 per full day.

"I've got a good percentage of commissioners who don't turn in any (per diem pay requests)," Oldre said, adding that they don't want to collect any more taxpayer dollars than they have to -- especially during challenging economic times.

Murray County commissioners don't seem to have that issue.

Auditor/Treasurer Heidi Winter shared figures from the 2010 commissioner payroll totals showing that although the commissioners' salaries are set at $18,544 apiece, the county has paid out more than $140,000 this year in salary, per diem and mileage to the commissioners, with one pay period yet to be added.

Even without including insurance contributions and Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS) payouts, the lowest paid commissioner received at least $25,500 from the county, according to Winter's report.

In per diems, commissioners Gerald Magnus, Robert Moline and Kevin Vickerman each received more than $7,500.

Commissioners John Giese and Bill Sauer each received more than $12,000. Reimbursed mileage for the commissioners ranged from $848 to $2,593.

Adding in insurance, beneficiary association contributions and MSRS payouts, Murray County paid commissioners more than $200,000 in 2010 to date.

According to Winter, county employees are eligible for a portion of their vacation and sick pay to be paid out into an MSRS account upon retirement in the form of severance pay. 

Since elected officials do not accrue vacation and sick leave, a policy was adopted to pay a lump one-time payment into an MSRS account based on years in office. 

On Wednesday the commissioners discussed the 2011 salaries for elected officials, including the sheriff, auditor/treasurer, attorney and recorder.

After looking at the proposed figures, Magnus said he thought some of the figures looked higher than they should be and put forth a motion that each position be given a raise of $1,900 across the board.

A roll call vote approved the motion, which gave mixed results: $3,000 less than proposed for the county attorney; $142 less for the sheriff; yet $21 more for the recorder.

According to Winter, the Murray County Attorney, like many small counties, is not considered a full-time position, yet no particular number assignment has been given to that position, such as a two-thirds or three-fifths position.

"We had a market study done two years ago, trying to figure it out" she explained. "The guy that did the study gave up."

The Pipestone county attorney is also a part-time position, according to Pipestone County Administrator Sharon Hanson.

The six counties being compared, which obviously range in size, population, crime activity and need for personnel in a county attorney's office, also range greatly in county attorney salary, from $102,606 in Nobles County to $43,187 in Pipestone County.

The Rock County Attorney has not taken a pay increase in four years, Oldre said, keeping his salary at $74,500, while the sheriff will also keep his salary at $68,050.

The salaries compared for the sheriffs in the area are closer in range, from $68,050 to $90,064 and falling in line with the population of each county.

Because of the challenges counties face, Rock County bargaining groups reopened their contracts -- 2011 is the final year of the three-year contract -- and set their pay increases to 0 percent for the coming year, according to Oldre.

Both the county administrator and the county engineer did the same, freezing their pay at $86,700 and $97,248, respectively.

Other typically elected officials include the county recorder and county auditor-treasurer, but Rock County is unique in that both of those positions are filled through the hiring process.

The county recorder also serves as the county assessor, earning an annual salary of $78,530; while the auditor-treasurer, which transfers from elected to hired position on Jan. 1, will receive an annual salary of $54,132.

Cottonwood County will not set the salaries for its elected officials until the Jan. 4, 2011, board meeting.