Dubuque County supervisors last week could not agree on whether or how to reduce previously planned raises for county elected officials — other than unanimously agreeing to freeze their own pay.
The supervisors agreed to raises for most county employees, including elected officials, earlier this year.
But most of those decisions were made before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the county, significantly changing economic realities, including revenues for the county government.
So, Supervisor Jay Wickham recently proposed freezing wages at their current levels before planned raises go into effect July 1 — the first day of the new fiscal year.
According to Budget Director Stella Runde, the county will employ 375 full-time, 100 part-time and 100 seasonal or temporary staff this coming year. She said the total increase between wages and benefits would come to $996,000.
On July 21, though, Supervisor Ann McDonough proposed a review of county improvement projects planned — again, during budget discussions before the pandemic — for the upcoming fiscal year, particularly pointing at $1.6 million set to be given to contracted companies.
“A freeze means a freeze,” she said. “It means we’re all in this together. I’m not interested in a wage freeze if we’re not also going to talk about outside spending.”
Wickham said projects that improve life for county residents were not the place to look for savings.
Supervisor Dave Baker showed no interest in cutting either employee wages or planned projects, saying that would not be fair.
At the board’s meeting June 24, it became clear that neither Wickham nor Baker had left their corners.
McDonough made a few motions aimed at finding some middle ground.
First, she moved to cap wage increases for nonbargaining — including elected — employees at 1.5%. Baker did not budge from his position of keeping raises as planned. Wickham opposed the proposal because it did not exclude Sunnycrest Manor and sheriff’s department employees. McDonough’s motion died for lack of a second.
McDonough also proposed putting a temporary freeze on all wages until January, ahead of which supervisors could review the financial outlook and potentially remove the freeze. Wickham, though, still wanted Sunnycrest workers to be exempt.
Wickham made a motion for the county board to direct staff to work with the various county employee unions and non-bargaining officials to see if they might agree to a pay freeze.
But with the year’s negotiations closed with most of those unions and with the county locked in to multi-year contracts with others, McDonough indicated that she thought it sounded too legally complicated.
In the end, all the supervisors could agree on was that they could eliminate their own wage increases, freezing their salaries at $51,566 and saving the county $1,082.
Wickham called that a “crumb” but said it was better than nothing.