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Crow Wing County Board: Compensating Crow Wing County's commissioners

Click image to view the entire graphic.1 / 6
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom2 / 6
Chairman Doug Houge3 / 6
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen4 / 6
Commissioner Paul Koering5 / 6
Commissioner Paul Thiede6 / 6

How much do the elected Crow Wing County commissioners earn in a year?

Between $29,000 and $39,000, depending on which commissioner's earnings are under consideration. In addition to their annual salaries, the five county commissioners are compensated for attending meetings and for job-related expenses, and are also eligible for health insurance.

County commissioners earned $29,026.12 for salaries in 2016, a 1.5 percent increase over 2015. Total per diem and expenses submitted to the county by the commissioners was $25,157.40. Per diem payments are $50 per day on days when county commissioners attend meetings, an amount that has not varied in at least the last nine years. Expenses cover mileage; the cost of lodging and meals is covered if meeting attendance includes an overnight stay.

Commissioners are eligible to claim per diem for regular county board meetings, the meetings of assigned committees and other meetings reported to the full county board. Exceptions are those meetings purely political in nature, such as a campaign event, or the annual convening of the board of equalization, a meeting for which state statute bars compensation. Besides per diem payments, commissioners are compensated for expenses in the same way all county employees are.

Commissioners must submit an itemized list of meeting attendance and expenses to the administrative services office, and there must be supporting evidence proving attendance. This can be in the form of meeting minutes or spoken reports at board meetings. In 2016, commissioners received compensation for a total of 335 meeting days, a payout of $16,750. This was a decrease of $1,200 in comparison to 2015.

There is no specific participation requirement for meeting attendance. Some of the commissioners are more vocal than others, County Administrator Tim Houle said last year, although he does not believe this is an accurate measure of participation. Commissioner attendance at committee meetings to retrieve "alternative and independent sources of information" is something county residents benefit from, Houle added.

When asked if commissioners could show up just long enough to have attendance counted and then leave, Houle said he's heard of this happening over the course of his 20-year career, but never in Crow Wing County.

In addition to salaries, per diem payments and expenses, commissioners are eligible for health insurance provided through the county.

"All insurance changes we make apply to board members in the same way they apply to non-union employees," Houle stated in an email.

Houle said the specific health insurance plans employees participate in is private data, although the overall rates of participation in each type of plan is available.

Human Resource Director Tamra Laska said the most popular plan selected by employees is the $2600/$5200 deductible health savings account plan, with 306 employees participating. The county is in the process of eliminating a comprehensive major medical plan option by 2018, currently held by 19 county employees.

"The commissioners are eligible to participate in county health insurance programs on the same basis as other elected officials and employees," Laska wrote in an email. "Changes to the health insurance program impacts commissioners just as it does all other employees and elected officials who participate in county health insurance benefits."

There was no change in the order of most to least compensated among county commissioners in 2016.

Commissioner Paul Thiede was the most highly compensated of the board members in 2016, earning $39,270 total. He earned $5,100 in per diem payments and $3,508.16 in mileage expenses. Thiede also was reimbursed $975.72 in other expenses, the only commissioner to submit for expenses beyond mileage and the use of a personal cellphone. More than $600 of this went toward airfare to Washington, D.C., where Thiede attended the National Association of Counties conference.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen was the second-most highly compensated commissioner in 2016, earning $36,171.46. Of this, $6,150 was in per diem and $335.34 was in mileage expenses. Franzen was the highest per diem earner, reporting attendance at 123 meetings.

Nystrom was the middle earner on the county board, receiving $33,416.92 total—$3,450 in per diem and $280.80 in mileage expenses.

Commissioner Paul Koering was the second-least compensated member of the county board. He earned $31,736.12 in 2016, accepting $2,050 in per diem. Koering said he does not submit mileage at all, including out-of-town meetings. His expense payment covers a monthly stipend for the use of his personal cellphone.

Houge earned the least of all commissioners at $29,635.12, taking home about $9,600 less than Thiede. He received $609 in expense payments, covering his phone stipend. Houge did not collect any per diem payments, a choice he has historically made. Following the release of 2014 commissioner compensation data, Houge said he believed the salary appropriately covers the expected duties of commissioners. He also said he did not attend as many meetings as other commissioners, although he does appear at those directly affecting his district, which covers the Cuyuna Range area.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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