The Douglas County Board voted Tuesday to raise its members’ pay in two future years, pushing their annual salary over $60,000.

The board approved raising the salary by 2.5% in 2023 and by the same percentage in 2024. That will increase members’ pay to $59,815 in 2023 and then to $61,310 in 2024.

Douglas County Board members currently make $51,789 a year. The board had previously approved raising members’ salaries by 4% annually from 2020 through 2022.

Chairman Chris Rodgers said the increased salaries will keep pace with the cost of inflation and will be comparable to the pay received by county board members in counties of comparable size.

“It’s fair compensation,” Rodgers said.

He had proposed 3% annual increases for 2023 and 2024. But County Board member Clare Duda made a motion for the 2.5% increases instead, saying it was similar to raises the County Board gave to other elected Douglas County officials.

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The board approved the resolution 5-2. P.J. Morgan, Mary Ann Borgeson and Marc Kraft joined Duda and Rodgers in voting yes. Jim Cavanaugh and Mike Boyle voted no.

The reason for voting on salaries that far into the future is that it’s beyond the current terms of all current board members, so they aren’t directly voting on their own salaries, Rodgers said. Duda had recommended that the board take that approach.

Borgeson said the board, with the raises, is taking a “better, more strategic” approach to board members’ salaries than in the past. The board had frozen its salary, then raised it by a combined 34% in 2017 and 2018.

Kraft said the job, while officially part time, requires multiple meetings on multiple days of the week, making it hard for people who aren’t independently wealthy or retired to do it. He said the increased salary will enable more people to do it, thus attract more qualified candidates.

Boyle said he agreed with Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, that the board should peg its salary increases to urban cost-of-living indexes for the Midwest. That cost of living increased by 1.6% from 2017 to 2019, Kagan said.

“I am not going to support this because I want to do what Doug suggested,” Boyle said.

The board also voted Tuesday, as expected, to set the Douglas County property tax rate at just over 29.5 cents per $200 in valuation. That’s an increase of 1.5 cents, or 5.3%, over the current tax rate, with the increase slotted to begin paying back bonds for a proposed courthouse annex and juvenile detention center building project.

The board had voted 6-1 in July to approve a 2019-20 budget that was expected to require the tax rate that was approved Tuesday.

That project is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

Kagan said that approving the raises Tuesday, on the same day as the tax rate increase, was “like rubbing salt in taxpayer wounds.”

Cavanaugh called the timing of the two measures ironic, tone deaf and emblematic of the way the justice center project has been conducted.

Rodgers said the board has until Jan. 15 of a general election year to set members’ salaries. He said he had intended to propose the 2023-24 raises in July, along with the county budget, but forgot to do it then. He said he brought it back Tuesday on the day of the tax rate vote because it’s also a budget matter.

In Sarpy County, County Board Chairman Don Kelly makes $27,095 a year; the four other board members earn $26,095.

In Lincoln, members of the Lancaster County Board are being paid $46,708 in 2019. The Lancaster board voted in 2017 to increase the salaries of County Board members and the county’s other elected officers by about 2% a year from 2020 through 2022. The exact amounts will be based on a formula linking the raises to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers in the Midwest.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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