Vernon County General Government Committee sends chief deputy pay issue back to Public Safety Committee

VIROQUA, Wis.– The Vernon County Public Safety Committee voted last month to reduce the pay for the chief deputy position at the sheriff’s department after a county ordinance was discovered from 2005 that created the position, and set the pay at 90 percent of the sheriff’s pay. The pay for that position currently exceeds the sheriffs pay by about $5,000. The sheriff’s salary is currently at $87,753 and the chief deputy position is currently earns $92, 469.

To figure out how the chief deputy pay wound up exceeding the sheriff’s pay you have to go back in time a bit. At the Public Safety Committee meeting on July 10, Supervisor Mary Henry (District 12) said she had researched the chief deputy position and discovered that when the county made the change from under-sheriff to chief deputy in 2005, the resolution creating the position (Res. 2005-40) states that the chief deputy pay will be set at 10 percent below that of the sheriff position. After a great deal of discussion the Public Safety Committee voted to adjust the pay for the chief deputy back to the level set in that original resolution when the position was created, setting it at 90 percent of the sheriff position, which comes to $78,978. The committee approved a motion to reduce the salary by a unanimous voice vote. You can read our previous story about that meeting and the public safety committees discussion here.

The issue was then referred the General Government Committee because that is the home committee for the Human Resources Department. Human Resources Director Trisha Lepke said she was able to confirm the 2005 resolution creating a positions and setting the wage at 90 percent of the sheriff’s wage, but also found a 2016 resolution placing the position on the wage scale.

Chief Deputy Nathan Campbell pointed out the the committee that the intent of the 2016 resolution was to have it supersede the 2005 resolution.

Chief Deputy Nate Campbell

Supervisor Henry (who sits on the Public Safety Committee) was also in attendance at the General Government meeting and said she made phone calls to people who were a part of the 2005 resolution to find out what the intent of that resolution was.

“It was the intent of that resolution to help give continuity to that position if a new sheriff was elected,” Said Henry. “So that was the intent that it was true and always earn 10 percent lower than the sheriff.”

Henry went on to say it was the Public Safety Committee was not aware of the 2016 resolution but it was their intention to place the salary for the position back to the original level set in the 2005 resolution, or 90 percent of the sheriff’s salary.

“It should not exceed the sheriff because of the duty and responsibility of the sheriff,” said Henry.

Supervisor Mary Henry

Henry also said the salary reduction was seen as a cost saving measure to help balance the sheriff’s department budget that no longer houses state inmates. Henry said the loss of that state contract has resulted in a loss of revenue of about $900,000 for the department.

“We need to find ways in our budget (sheriff’s department) …and for that position to earn more than the sheriff we can’t keep up with it. We can’t keep up with it,” Henry said. “We can’t keep up with that salary and keep putting it up, and the sheriff only gets looked at every four years before election time.”

Campbell pointed out the 2016 resolution was approved by a vote of 25-0 county board vote and it was intended to supersede the 2005 resolution.

Supervisor Dave Eggen (District 8) made a motion to confirm the Public Safety Committee motion and reduce the salary to the 10 percent below the sheriff’s salary. Supervisor and Committee Chair (District 13) Alycann Taylor said she was concerned about the precedent the decision could have.

“I struggle with this because if we say that we want our positions to fall on a pay scale that is competitive within comparables, which is, that’s where I struggle because we’ve done comparables for positions that are not elected positions,” said Taylor. “I hear this 90 percent but I’m struggling with that because if we compare positions. I’m assuming this was put on the wage scale as a comparable.”

Supervisor Alycann Taylor

Supervisor Mary Bringe (District 4) said she felt the issue needed to be passed onto the full board of supervisors.

“This committee (Public Safety ) that brought this forward has already done their work and I don’t think it requires our committee to deal with it at all,” said Bringe. “It needs to go right to the board. I don’t even know why it’s here.”

Campbell said he felt the committees actions are singling him out.

“I just want to know that I am being singled out here,” said Campbell. “What the County Board has done for the sheriff’s position as far as wage has nothing to do with me being put on the wage scale. I was put in there under the wage study in 2016, seven years ago. I have been in this wage scale. Now I am the one being singled out throughout this entire county for some reason. I understand the position makes more than the sheriff, but that is not my responsibility to fix or have it implemented from the start.

Supervisor Mary Meehan-Strub asked HR Director Lepke “Do we only have one Chief Deputy position in the county?”

“Yes,” said Lepke.

“Thank you,” said Meehan-Strub. “It’s the position that’s being singled out.”

Taylor pointed out that the public safety committee made their vote without the knowledge of the 2016 superseding motion.

Supervisor Ole Yttri

Supervisor Ole Yttri seconded Eggen’s motion to confirm the Public Safety Committee motion to take the position off the wage scale and return it to 90 percent of the sheriff’s pay. Taylor asked if the best course of action would be to simply send the issue onto the full board of supervisors. Eggen amended that motion to state the issue should be moved onto the full board.

Lepke pointed out that the change would mean the chief deputy position would be the only non-union, non-elected position not on the wage scale.

“It makes perfect sense to me that the sheriff should be the highest paid salary in the department in his department,” said Eggen.

“I hear that and I understand that,” said Taylor. “There is something about putting positions on a wage scale and effectively following our path that we do for every other non-elected position.”

Supervisors Ole Yttri and Mehaan-Strub asked if the issue was really that the sheriff’s salary was too low. Yttri pointed out the elected officials do not get regular increases because they are not on the wage scale.

Supervisor Dave Eggen

“I am being singled out,” said Campbell. “I tell you that’s my opinion. I truly am here. Again, Ole did touch on it, the sheriff’s wage is the issue and yet it’s trying to be held against the chief deputy position, and I don’t understand the motive behind that. Again, I’ve been in the wage scale seven years. This is not new. Alright? It was never my position or responsibility to make sure that the the sheriff’s position was over and above it. I’m not disagreeing with that. I’m not disagreeing with it, with the thought that the sheriff should be paid more than any other position in the sheriff’s office. But if that’s the case, this is what we’re doing, are we going to look at every other position within the county that someone makes more money than a supervisor or a manager? Because I am not the only one. And I’m not bringing that up to open up a can of worms, but I truly am being singled out here.”

Yttri asked at what point the salary surpassed the sheriff’s pay. Lepke said it stayed at the 90 percent level until one year after it was placed on the wage scale and comparables were used to set the wage.

Lepke recommended the committee not remove it from the scale but to place top cap on the wage scale for the position.

“I would recommend it not being if that is the direction it goes,” Lepke said. “I would recommend it not being removed, but then placing a cap on it at the top end of that position. If that is the direction that it’s going to go, but not removing it (from the wage scale).”

“I’m In conflict with the the two items,” said Meehan-Strub. “If I disagree with the motion that was passed (at Public Safety), because I believe that if it’s on a wage scale and it should be capped, then if I vote yes, that says I’m approving that if it goes forward to the county board. I would be much more comfortable if we didn’t have the motions as they’re stated, and only had a motion that said that the committee is going to forward the public safety’s recommendation and motion for full consideration by the full county board.”

After more discussion Taylor made a motion to send the issue back to the Public Safety committee and have them reconsider the issue now that the new information about the 2016 resolution is available, and then send it on to the full county board with their recommendation. Yttri seconded the motion and it passed on a voice vote with Eggen being the only no vote.

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