Pennington County commissioners on Tuesday voted themselves a 20 percent raise, although Commission Chairman Lyndell Petersen said in a post-meeting interview he thought he was voting for a much more modest pay increase.
Commissioners will now make $1,500 a month, up from $1,250 in 2015. That adds up to $18,000 a year, a $3,000 annual raise.
In voting for the raise, Petersen was joined by Commissioners Deb Hadcock, Nancy Trautman and Ron Buskerud. Commissioner George Ferebee voted against it.
In a telephone interview, Petersen said he was unaware he voted for the $250-a-month raise. He said he thought he was backing a $50-a-month raise to $1,300, which was already budgeted for 2016.
“I must not have heard it correctly when the motion was made,” Petersen said. He added that if he knew he was voting for the $3,000 annual raise, he would have insisted on more discussion on the matter.
A source in the Pennington County Auditor's office confirmed that the motion was for the larger raise.
According to the meeting agenda packet, commissioners were given two options: Vote for the $1,300 per month salary already budgeted for 2016; or vote for "any other amount the Board deems appropriate."
Hadcock made the motion for the $1,500-a-month pay.
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Petersen explained his rationale for any increase saying, "Normally we look at what is being paid in Pennington County as well as other counties and try to keep it somewhat in balance that way."
Buskerud said that the low salary for these positions attract retired people who don't need a large salary on which to live.
He said the raise will attract younger participation on the commission, adding, "You have to get some younger ideas in there sooner or later."
Ferebee made a motion to keep the commissioner's salaries at $15,000 a year. The motion failed because no other commissioner would second it.
Ferebee was concerned about the message the raise would send to county employees and the public, “The public is concerned about our spending. When I was running for office the No. 1 thing I heard is our taxes are too high. Then we go raising our wages, which is spending more money.”
The raise comes after the commissioner's salaries remained at $1,250 per month in 2014 and 2015.
Minnehaha County commissioners on Tuesday also gave themselves a raise. Their 1.5 percent increase gives them an annual salary of $26,390.
The estimated population of Minnehaha County is nearly 183,000, while Pennington County's population is estimated at a little more than 108,000.