Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Supervisors Seek Even Bigger Raises For County Officers

Committee unanimously supports a $33,000 raise for all three constitutional officers.

By - Mar 7th, 2024 08:45 am
Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

After Milwaukee County’s Department of Human Resources proposed giving three elected officials the highest pay raise in recent county history, some members of the Milwaukee County Board decided the proposal didn’t go far enough.

Three offices — Treasurer, County Clerk and Register of Deeds — are being considered for an 11.5% pay increase, which would bring the annual pay for the positions to approximately $102,000, up from the current pay of $91,483.

These elected positions are constitutional officers whose positions are required by the state constitution. They are elected to four-year terms and are all up for election in 2024. The raises would not take effect until the start of the next term in 2025.

During a meeting of the county board’s Personnel Committee Tuesday, Sup. Tony Staskunas successfully amended the proposed salary increases, raising them by 4% and then an additional 2% every year until 2028. So by the end of these officers next term, they will all be making $124,513 annually — a more than $33,000 raise from their current salary. The amendment was unanimously approved by the committee.

Staskunas pointed to county ordinance to explain why he proposed increasing the raises. The ordinance states that the county’s constitutional officers, which also includes positions like the Sheriff and others, should be treated as department heads.

And so we have an ordinance calling for these three positions to be treated as department heads and compensated that way,” he said.

The lowest-paid department head is the director of the Office of Equity, Staskunas noted, who makes $117,332 annually. “And so my feeling is if we have the ordinance, we may as well follow the law, since we’re lawmakers,” Staskunas said. “And I think we have a duty to bring these department heads in line with our other department heads.”

Provided he wins reelection, one of the officers up for a raise has sought to reduce salaries for county department heads in the past. In 2014, Treasurer David Cullen was a Milwaukee County Supervisor and he and his colleagues on the board slashed the pay for some of the county’s top department heads.

However, as Urban Milwaukee reported at the time, the move was viewed as retaliation for Wisconsin Act 14, which cut supervisors down to part-time pay. Cullen reportedly told then County Executive Chris Abele, who supported Act 14, that salaries and positions were the board’s “nuclear option” after Act 14.

Abele’s administration viewed it as retaliation, but Cullen said that was a misinterpretation and the board only sought to cut back on executive staff costs in the budget.

Cullen could not be reached for comment.

If the raises are approved by the board, County Clerk George Christenson and Register of Deeds Israel Ramón will find themselves automatically in line for more pay, as both are so far running unopposed for their seats. Cullen is facing Ted Chisholm,the son of District Attorney John Chisholm and until recently a senior staffer in the Clerk of Court’s office, in the partisan primary for the office.

As Urban Milwaukee recently reported, there is a long history of county insiders questioning whether the three constitutional offices should even exist. The county board in years past even unsuccessfully sought a change in state law to eliminate them.

Supervisors sitting on the board now, though, think differently.

“These constitutionally elected offices should be getting paid at least as much as a department head and they should definitely be getting paid more than counties only a tiny fraction of our size,” Sup. Steven Shea said, referencing a report by HR showing Dane County offered a higher salary for these positions.

This amendment is a common sense amendment, although on the surface, it certainly appears to be excessive,” said Sup. Peter Burgelis. “But I’d argue that there has been a lack of attention to these positions over the course of the last decade or more.”

The two voted for the raises proposed by Staskunas, as did supervisors Patti Logsdon and Willie Johnson, Jr., so the proposal passed on a 5-0 vote. It will go to the full board later this month for approval.

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

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