A drawn-out battle between county commissioners Oct. 22 saw the Sarpy County election commissioner and his deputy get 26 percent pay raises.
While the raises were deemed reasonable by all five commissioners, who agreed that comparisons show both officials to have been previously underpaid, the method of awarding future pay raises proved a sticking point.
Commissioner Don Kelly opposed a proposal that annual pay increases be set at a minimum of 2.5 percent even if cost-of-living estimates as derived from the Midwest consumer price index showed that a lower increase was justified. The same proposal capped cost-of-living adjustments at 4.5 percent.
He suggested that the 2.5 percent increase be set as a maximum COLA increase, not a minimum, and that zero increases be permitted if the consumer price index did not rise and if job performance were deemed unsatisfactory.
“Raise your hand in here who wouldn't sign for a guaranteed pay raise the next four years regardless of performance?” he said. “We don't do that for the rank and file in this county, why should we do it for any elected position, any elected official, or any appointed official? It makes no sense.'”
Kelly and Commissioner Jim Warren voted for the zero percent minimum and 2.5 percent maximum, but Commissioners Brenda Carlisle and Tom Richards voted against.
Commissioner Jim Thompson, who said he had not had enough time to review the issue, abstained.
An attempt by Warren to maintain the zero minimum but increase the maximum to 3.5 percent also died with Carlisle, Richards and Thompson voting against.
The board eventually settled unanimously on a minimum 1 percent annual increase and a maximum 4 percent annual increase, but not before Kelly once again criticized the board for giving public sector employees guarantees he said do not exist in the private sector.
“The vast majority of the people who pay the bills – the taxpayers – are not getting guaranteed pay raises for the next four years,” he said.
As a result of the vote, Election Commissioner Wayne Bena's salary will increase from $63,000 to $75,000 with an additional $5,000 for his work as jury commissioner.
The salary of Deputy Election Commissioner Deb Davis will climb from $56,700 to $68,000, with an additional $4,000 for serving as deputy jury commissioner.
Karen Buche, director of human resources for the county, said comparisons with other counties plus a job description drawn up by Bena which she deemed reasonable, justified the increases.
Richards cited Bena's performance as election commissioner as reasons why the increases were appropriate.
He said Bena has significantly improved the county's mail-in ballot program, has developed an absentee voter program “unmatched” across the state, and has operated his office within budget for the past four years.
Kelly, too, voiced no objection to the increases.
“I've looked at all the data, and I think the position of election commissioner has been undervalued and underpaid,” he said. “I think it's a fair salary, and it's warranted.”