Supervisors revise policy for department head salaries

Feb. 3—In an effort to save money and retain its department heads, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors have spent considerable time this past year tying to get a handle on salaries. For some that means increasing their pay to be more in line with their duties, but for most it means negotiating their raises.

Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma told Newton News at the conclusion of a recent budget session that most department heads have responded well to the board's change in policy. Supervisors revised the policy on Jan. 23 and it no longer allows individuals in managerial positions to be on a pay scale.

Since the updated policy will become effective July 1, the board of supervisors have been discussing department head salaries over the past few weeks during budget workshops. The Jan. 30 budget workshop gave a glimpse into how pay increases for department heads would proceed in the future.

Two department heads with their own independent boards — Keri Van Zante of Jasper County Conservation and Becky Pryor of Jasper County Board of Health — were present during the meeting to discuss potential pay increases, which would be approved at a later date.

Department heads are entrusted to manage and coordinate individual employees and to plan budgets and capital projects, among other duties. Generally, they have a lot more responsibility than a regular employee. But supervisors did not think it was right for them to be placed on a step progression pay program.

Talsma likened the updated policy to how the board of supervisors determines raises for the county engineer. The board and the engineer often have a two-way conversation — in the form of an employee evaluation — about what the position is worth, what that individual is worth and what the county is willing to pay them.

From an economical standpoint, Talsma began to notice a trend of unsustainable salary increases for department heads using the step progression pay program.

"We have those who are more than fairly compensated that most likely are a lot closer to retirement than some other ones," he said. "Even from a sustainability portion, if we didn't try to get something under control we were going to have department heads that were going to be pricing themselves out of a job."

For example, if there was a department head in Jasper County with a salary of $140,000, and they were continually receiving 6 percent raises year after year, at some point the board is going to be forced into a position of having to take a hard look at the job and whether it is necessarily a justifiable salary.

"Obviously a 6 percent increase on $140,000 is a lot different than a 6 percent increase at $60,000, let alone those year-over-year compounding interests," Talsma said. "Those add up over time. We feel like that's what we had going on or had the potential to start happening with a couple of our department heads."

Talsma added the county doesn't want to lose its department heads and that there are also those employees on the other end of the spectrum that are having their salaries addressed at budget sessions.

"We have those that were probably being grossly underpaid for their role," Talsma said. There's probably two or three that could probably make that point."