Isanti County Board approves 1.5 percent increase in salaries

The Isanti County Board approved a 1.5 percent increase to commissioner salaries at a special meeting held Dec. 26.

The board had originally budgeted for no change from last year’s salaries and benefits, said Finance Director Chad Struss.

The motion to increase the salaries passed four-to-one, with outgoing Commissioner Alan Duff voting against.

“The County Board did not budget for county commissioner salary increases within the 2013 budget and I was not in favor of supporting a 1.5 percent increase,” Duff later stated.

The 2012 commissioner salary rate was $27,013. The increase will add $405, making the 2013 salary $27,418.

Isanti County Board Chair George Larson said the board sets the preliminary budget in September and the salary for commissioners in December. During that three-month gap, he said commissioners compared the salary increases made in surrounding counties.

“County commissioners hadn’t had an increase in three years,” Larson said. “This seemed to be about the average increase from neighboring counties.”

The base salary rate of $27,013 was set in 2009, Struss said.

The board also approved a motion to maintain the 2012 rate of per diems of $60 for in-county and $75 for out-of-county meetings. Duff voted against this motion as well, saying the board had budgeted to reduce the per diems to $50 for in-county and $65 for out-of-county meetings.

“I did not think it was right to go back on that commitment previously made to the taxpayers,” he said.

A per diem is a payment made to commissioners in addition to their base salary for attending additional committee meetings. They can claim only one per diem each day a meeting is attended, Struss said, regardless of the number of meetings attended. Commissioners do not claim per diems for regular county board meetings.

For instance, a commissioner could attend three additional meetings in one day, but can claim only one per diem for that day, Struss said.

He added that the commissioners’ salary and per diems are two out of thousands of line items in the budget. In 2011, the board budgeted $28,500 for per diems and spent $20,685, with an average of $4,251 paid to each of the five commissioners, Struss said. In 2012, they budgeted $28,500 and spent $16,770.

“Part of the reason they’re under that is that sometimes certain commissioners won’t claim certain per diems or won’t claim per diems at all,” Struss said.

In the 2013 budget, the board had originally budgeted $22,800 for per diems, he said.

“The 2013 budget was passed with the assumption that per diems would be $50 for in-county and $65 for out-of-county meetings, but that line item will change quite a bit based on how many per diems they claim or how many meetings they go to,” Struss said. “There’s no way for us to calculate how many meetings they’ll go to, so it’s just a ballpark estimate.

“The public confusion is they raised per diems, but they kept them the same (as in 2012),” Struss continued. “It just happened to be more than they set the budget for. Even if they were to spend over $22,800, chances are there will be some other line item that will offset that.”