A committee Tuesday recommended significant salary increases for three Sauk County offices that are up for election later this year.
The Sauk County Board’s Personnel Committee voted to approve 20 percent salary increases next year for the sheriff and coroner, and a 10 percent raise for the clerk of courts. Their pay would then remain frozen for the remainder of their four-year terms.
If the committee’s recommendations are approved by the full Sauk County Board next week, the sheriff’s pay would rise from $91,371 to $109,452, the coroner’s salary would increase from $54,823 to $66,005, and the clerk of courts’ salary would grow from $68,121 to $74,823.
All three partisan offices are up for election in November, and their next four-year terms will begin in January 2019. Candidates must file paperwork with the Sauk County Clerk by June 1.
Under state law, the county must establish wages for those offices’ next terms before candidates begin to register their campaigns.
The three officials received 2 percent raises in each of the last four years under salary adjustments approved by the county board in March 2014.
Sauk County Personnel Director Michelle Posewitz said the increases for the coroner and clerk of courts would bring them in line with the recommendations of a wage study that a consultant completed on behalf of the county in 2014.
The increase for the sheriff, she said, would ensure that his salary remains higher than that of the next-highest ranking official in that department and similar to his peers in other counties.
Supervisor Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac, who chairs the board’s Law Enforcement Committee, addressed the Personnel Committee on Tuesday to recommend the 20 percent increase next year for the sheriff, plus smaller increases in each of the following three years.
He told committee members that Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister currently makes less than several police chiefs within the county who manage fewer employees.
Meister’s current $91,371 salary is less than that of Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf, who earns just over $95,000, and Lake Delton Police Chief Daniel Hardman, who earns nearly $104,000, municipal officials confirmed Tuesday.
His pay is about $2,000 more than that of the sheriff in neighboring Columbia County, which has a population size similar to Sauk County’s.
“My thoughts on this are, first of all, you get what you pay for,” Wenzel said. “And second, what message do we as public officials want to send to the sheriff about his performance?”
Wenzel said Meister currently earns only $1,200 more than his chief deputy, and that a salary increase in the next term would eliminate that wage compression.
Committee members were not presented with salary comparisons to other county sheriffs during Tuesday’s meeting. However, they said the increase seemed appropriate, given the sheriff’s responsibilities and the comparison to local police chiefs.
Supervisor David Moore of Wisconsin Dells made a motion to approve the 20 percent increase for the sheriff, but not the additional increases in subsequent years.
“I guess, the way I look at it, that’s a pretty significant increase from where he’s at now,” Moore said.
Supervisors Tim Meister, the committee’s chairman, Henry Netzinger of Prairie du Sac, Jean Berlin of Hillpoint, and Tommy Lee Bychinski of Reedsburg voted in favor of Moore’s motion.
The committee then considered and approved salary increases for the coroner and clerk of courts separately. Bychinski said he believed a 20 percent increase for the coroner also was appropriate.
“My logic on it would be that currently, the coroner is answering how many more calls this year than he was last year or the year before?” Bychinski said. “And especially with the opiate issue that we have in this county, I think it’s justifiable.”
County budget documents show the coroner anticipates a 7 percent decrease in cremation and death investigation cases this year.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Sauk County Coroner Greg Hahn said although the number of investigations may be going down, the total number of death scenes to which he gets called continues to grow.
“There is an increase in deaths,” Hahn said. “It’s been creeping up 5 to 7 percent each year. That’s mainly because of people going on hospice.”
Posewitz told committee members the suggested increases for the coroner and clerk of courts would bring them generally in line with their peers in comparable counties.
The board’s Finance Committee was slated to meet jointly with the Personnel Committee to consider the salary adjustments Tuesday. However, a quorum of the Finance Committee was not present, so the panel will have to meet separately at a later date. An agenda for that meeting has not yet been released.