The recent brouhaha over salary increases to Ozaukee County supervisors brought some interesting issues to light. The proposed increases of 13.3% for supervisors and 51% for the Board Chairperson fell six votes short of the 2/3 majority required by state statute. Some of the debate comments were enlightening. Supervisor Dave Barrow from Cedarburg argued that the raise was necessary to attract qualified supervisory candidates in the future. That’s 180 degrees from my perspective as an elected official for some eleven years. Good people are attracted to public service usually to give something back to their community, not for the compensation. In fact, I believe it works the other way – a large compensation package attracts the mediocre and often incompetent who see the salary as a way to improve their life style. One need look no further than many full time elected officials in this State to confirm this observation. So when Supervisor Barrow states “People don’t appreciate what they don’t pay for”, I reply, “People are happy they don’t get all the government they are already paying for.”
Supervisor Bob Walerstein raised the question, “Are we martyrs?” apparently referring to supervisors’ current compensation as inadequate. Is he correct? We can examine this question by comparing compensation levels of local equivalent elected officials, namely aldermen. Having been a Mequon alderman and a county supervisor I feel competent to say that the aldermanic position had a larger workload and a bigger responsibility to my constituents than did my supervisor position. Here’s a comparison of current compensation levels of these elected positions on an annual basis.:
Ozaukee County Supervisor - $4,500 (Defeated proposal - $5,100)
Alderman/ Mequon - $4,800
Alderman/Cedarburg - $2,400
Alderman/Port Washington - $3,750
From this comparison, I would suggest that there are no martyrs on the County Board, especially when one notes that supervisors receive mileage to attend meetings and aldermen do not.
While we are at it, let’s take a look at a similar comparison of the county board chairperson to local mayors. Again, from my experience, the mayor’s job is far more pressure packed and time consuming than a board chairman’s. Common Council meetings are held at night and often last far into the early morning hours. County Board meetings start at 9:00 a.m. and are normally over by noon. A mayor has to be much closer to his/her constituents than a board chairperson. So, how do local compensation levels compare on an annual basis?
Ozaukee County Board Chairperson - $13,500 (Defeated proposal $20,400)
Mayor of Mequon - $ 9,600
Mayor of Cedarburg - $ 6,000
Mayor of Port Washington - $ 7,500
Another slant is to look back just a few years ago before the County hired a County Administrator to run the county functions on a full time basis. The County Board Chairperson, Leroy Bley filled that role as a part-time county employee on the state retirement system. He oversaw county functions which reported to numerous county board committees with an annual salary of $15,142, aided and abetted by the County Clerk who received a premium.
When Chairperson Bley retired from office and a county administrator was hired at a compensation close to $100,000, the chairperson’s annual compensation was reduced to three times a supervisor’s and the position was removed from the state retirement system. You can make your own decision of the validity of the failed proposal to increase the compensation to $20,400.
To complete the picture, our local governmental administrators are currently compensated as follows:
Ozaukee County Administrator - $107,494
Mequon City Administrator - $102,250
Cedarburg City Administrator - $ 75,000
Port Washington City Administrator - $ 91,368
Lest you think I am critical, I believe that all these administrators do a wonderful job in running their respective government bodies on an efficient and effective basis for all their taxpayers. They are worth every penny!
In summary, and I hope I am speaking for a majority of Ozaukee County taxpayers when I state, “we appreciate the public service of all 31 county supervisors, but we disclaim the approbation ‘martyr’ for that service.”