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St. Croix County Board ready to reduce from 31 to 19

Come April the St. Croix County Board's work will be divided among fewer supervisors, but they won't get a raise.

A citizen referendum adopted in November 2008 cuts the number of County Board members from 31 to 19. The filing period for those positions opens Dec. 1. The election will be held April 2010.

At its Oct. 20 meeting, the board voted to reduce the number of standing committees from about a dozen to five. The reduction will mean delegating to some committees authority over more county departments, increasing the size of the Public Protection Committee from five to seven and combining the functions of the five-member Administration Committee and the five-member Finance Committee into a seven-member Administration Committee.

It also means 32 committee slots will be filled by 19 supervisors.

The proposal adopted last week also creates a "committee of the whole," a working committee that will meet at the call of the board chairman. Any action taken by this committee will be considered a recommendation to the full board, which meets once a month.

The current Administration Committee, noting that a smaller board will mean more work for individual board members, recommended paying supervisors a $100 per month stipend in addition to current amounts paid for attending meetings.

But that didn't fly with the rest of the board.

After April, the board's work will be divided among 19 members and while he expects the total number of meetings to drop, the amount of work per member will increase, said Daryl Standafer, a member of the Administration Committee.

Last year County Board members were paid an average of $2,650 apiece for a total of $78,000 for the entire board. The new proposal, while it would add the monthly stipend, would cut gross compensation to about $71,000 a year, said Standafer.

The committee doesn't want to encourage more meetings, but it does want to recognize and pay for preparation work that supervisors do between meetings, said Standafer.

Besides, he said, the extra money might attract people trying to juggle a job and service on the County Board.

"In all candor, folks, we're becoming a retirement community," said Standafer, asking board members to notice how few people with jobs serve on the board.

Timing not right

The increase would amount to a 45 percent raise for individual County Board members when the county is considering laying off some employees, protested Supervisor Lorin Sather, River Falls.

"That's unconscionable," he said. "We don't do this because we're paid. This is public service."

The timing for an increase isn't right, agreed Supervisor Buzz Marzolf, town of Troy.

The extra pay would be an incentive for new, younger people to run, argued Supervisor Julie Speer, Wilson.

Commissioners in a Minnesota county gave themselves a raise and then cut employee hours, said Supervisor Ken Kolbe, town of Hudson, who hoped the same thing wouldn't happen here.

The resolution to add compensation was defeated on a 14-10 vote.

Supervisors did, though, vote 18-6 to raise the board chairman's monthly stipend from $200 to $500.

Some supervisors questioned setting up a new organizational structure now, suggesting that be left to the new board.

The new board can change it if it wishes, but adopting a structure now would create a starting point for supervisors who could be new to the process, said Standafer.

The current multiple-committee organization has resulted in supervisors who are specialists in one area but know little about what happens on other committees, he said.

Standafer said populating fewer committees with fewer board members would make them "county supervisors rather than committee supervisors."

The five new committees will be: Transportation, Administration, Health and Human Services, Public Protection and Community Development.