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Per diem, salaries set to increase for Crow Wing County board: County attorney, sheriff also given raises

Crow Wing County commissioners listen to a presentation about the preliminary property tax levy at their Sept. 26 board meeting. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Crow Wing County commissioners are expected to receive the highest pay increase in 2018 in at least a decade.

Coupled with a salary increase of 3.3 percent over 2017 to $30,000, per diem payments are also set to increase from $50 to $75 per a resolution passed Sept. 26. Per diem is a form of additional compensation granted to commissioners and members of county citizen committees for attending meetings. Per diem can be collected once per day of meetings attended. The increase would apply to all committees, confirmed County Administrator Tim Houle.

Between 2008-14, commissioners earned $28,051 per year. This followed small increases in 2007 and 2008. In 2015 and 2016, commissioners approved salary increases of 2 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. For 2017, the county board turned down a proposed salary increase from $29,041 to $29,650 in light of a budget lawsuit sought by Ryan, which they learned of the same December day in 2016.

Elected officials also set for salary increases are County Attorney Don Ryan and Sheriff Todd Dahl. Ryan is expected to earn $125,500 in 2018—the most of any elected official and a 3 percent increase over 2017. Dahl's salary was established at $111,000 in 2018, a 3.5 percent increase. Both Ryan and Dahl are full-time employees, while commissioners are considered part-time.

The increases are consistent with pay grades applied to most county employees, said Tamra Laska, human resource director. Laska also gathers information on the earnings of elected officials in comparable counties to inform her compensation proposals.

Houle noted salaries and the per diem rate could change before the end of the year, should the county board move to do so. Elected official pay is approved as part of the final levy and budget resolution in December.

About per diem

The per diem increase will likely have the most impact on commissioners' earnings. In 2016, the county board earned a combined $16,750 in per diem, with Chairman Doug Houge not collecting any per diem payments—a decision he's historically made.

If commissioners attended meetings the same number of days in 2018, this would rise to $25,125.

Houle noted the per diem rate in Cass County is $75, while nearby Morrison County recently changed its compensation scheme to offer a flat salary for commissioners, incorporating an average per diem expense.

In 2015, members of the planning commission/board of adjustment asked commissioners to consider an increase to their per diem payments, noting those committee members dedicate more time than the average citizen committee member.

While some were supportive of the idea considering the additional training required and time spent, commissioners did not move forward with the increase. Reasons cited were lack of desire to differentiate between citizen committees as well as potential budget impacts—although Houle at the time noted the change would be immaterial to the overall budget. Three years later, that commission will receive the same increase as commissioners, along with those participating in all other county committees.

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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