Compensation changes introduced to Board of Commissioners; cost savings unknown
Compensation changes and salary increases are on the table as the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners scrambles to finalize business before the end of the 2012 term Dec. 31.
Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, proposed a number of changes both to commissioners' compensation for the meetings they attend and for their salaries at the Wednesday night Ways and Means meeting of the board.
Though the county’s population has grown to 347,962, the number of seats on the board will be shrinking from 11 to nine in the 2013 term as a result of redistricting.
Conan Smith proposed a switch from the per diem process by which commissioners are paid for the meetings they attend to a stipend schedule, mainly to reduce the hassle on the commissioners and staff to file the per diems and get them approved, he said. The cost-savings are relatively uncertain at this point, he said.
The per diem payment system was heavily criticized in the 2010 election cycle, as an audit later found commissioners were improperly collecting pay -- including Conan Smith. Changes have since been made in the way per diem requests are approved.
Conan Smith initially made the decision to not pay the county back for the $591 he owes in per diem payments discovered in the audit. However, further analysis of the meetings he attended by County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum in January resulted in a payment from Conan Smith of $175, according to a report by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.
Commissioners are granted a base salary of $15,550 and then an additional $1,000 for being a chairman of the working session or Ways and Means committee. The board chairman earns $3,000 more than the base salary.
An increase in the commissioner’s base salary of $200 is also a part of Conan Smith’s initial resolution, though a $1,500 to $1,700 salary increase has also been floated.
During the Wednesday night meeting of the board, commissioners voted to amend the draft resolution Conan Smith presented by increasing the additional salary amounts for the chairpersons of the Ways and Means committee and of the working session to $3,000.
Conan Smith said after the meeting that there’s talk that in the 2013 term, the Ways and Means committee could be eliminated. Ways and Means meets before the full board meeting.
The pay rate for commissioners hasn’t been adjusted since 1999, when it was set at half of the median salary of all county employees. If that same scale applied to the present median salary of county employees, commissioners would be paid $27,184 per year.
Under Conan Smith’s proposal, commissioners would be paid a base of $15,750 per year, which is half of the median income for the lowest pay grade of county employees in 2012.
Currently, Washtenaw County is paying its commissioners a base salary rate of $0.49 per resident. Under Conan Smith’s proposed base salary, that rate would drop to $0.41 per resident -- the lowest in southeast Michigan, according to documentation Smith provided to the board.
Each of the 11 commissioners also has $3,550 in a flex spending account from which they withdraw expenditures and can charge a $25 per diem for each meeting of the board and of committees appointments that they attend.
In 2011 as an entire group, commissioners used 32 percent of the maximum amount available in the flex spending account. However, commissioners Felicia Brabec, Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson and Dan Smith charged nothing to their flex spending accounts.
The additional appointments of commissioners to other committees account for about $15,275 in budgeted per diems, although not all of the commissioners claim their per diems.
Conan Smith has proposed eliminating the per diem policy and implementing a stipend schedule based on the frequency of which the committee meets.
For the Board of Commissioners, which typically meets twice monthly, commissioners would receive a stipend of $500 per year.
Under the stipend schedule, commissioners would be paid a theoretical rate of about $20 per meeting, assuming there are 24 meetings of the board per year.
However, the stipend does not include any attendance requirements as the per diem pay schedule does.
“This has no accountability for attendance,” said Commissioner Wesley Prater, D-York Township. “I don’t think (the compensation change) is necessary. I think we should leave this alone.”
The last time the commissioners publicly discussed changes to compensation was in the spring, when Dan Smith proposed a boost from the $15,500 base salary to $16,250, with an overall 5.7 percent cut in compensation by reducing other perks. The motion failed to gain support.
He did agree with the Conan Smith's proposal to use stipends instead of per diems, which is a shade of what Dan Smith had proposed in the spring.
“The stipends address the issue that work isn’t always done at a board meeting,” Dan Smith said. “Just because a person can’t attend a meeting doesn’t mean they haven’t contributed.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, none of the compensation changes are final. The Board of Commissioners will take its final vote on the matter at its Dec. 5 meeting, the last regularly scheduled meeting of the year. Setting the new compensation rates for the 2013 term must be done by Dec. 31.