MANKATO — For the vast majority of the hundreds of Blue Earth County employees, pay-raise day was an anonymous affair and came just hours before the County Board hosted employees for holiday cookies and punch.
The board approved a 2.5 percent pay raise for 2014 for the two unions that have settled contracts and the same bump for the county's nonunion employees.
But for eight employees, the annual salary-setting exercise was a bit more public. It also seemed to reveal a hint of the hard feelings related to a years-long dispute between the county attorney's office and the county administration over salary setting.
First came the five commissioners, who County Administrator Bob Meyer recommended give themselves a 2 percent raise. The commissioners didn't accept the recommendation, choosing to keep their salaries at the 2013 level of $33,842.
Then came County Sheriff Brad Peterson and County Attorney Ross Arneson, who Meyer recommended receive a 2.5 percent pay adjustment. The board agreed, meaning Peterson and Arneson will be paid $129,813 next year.
The proposed salaries for the commissioners, the sheriff and the county attorney were included in Meyer's memo to the board in the meeting's packet of public documents. Arneson noted that Meyer had chosen to single out his salary and Peterson's, even though the county engineer, the human services director and the finance director receive identical salaries and will receive the same 2014 pay raise.
"Bob started that practice ...," Arneson said of singling out the elected officials.
Finally was Meyer's salary, which he left to the board's discretion with no recommendation.
The meeting packet didn't include Meyer's salary, and the board voted simply to give its top administrator the same 2.5 percent increase as other county supervisors.
"He's done a good job, and he's part of the reason the budget's looking so great," said Commissioner Mark Piepho, offering sentiments that were seconded by Commissioners Will Purvis and Kip Bruender.
But before the board voted unanimously to approve the 2.5 percent increase for Meyer, Arneson wanted to get Meyer's new salary on the record.
Meyer did the math for the increase: "$3,678."
"No, the dollar amount," Arneson said, referring to the total salary for 2014.
"$150,817," Meyer answered.
Salaries have been a point of contention between Arneson and Meyer and Arneson and the board since at least 2011, when Arneson began asking that his assistant county attorneys receive a substantial pay increase. In fact, on Monday the 2 p.m. hearing before District Court Judge Robert Walker was a contempt of court hearing titled Arneson vs. the Blue Earth County Board — the latest round in a long salary dispute between Arneson and the county administration.
Arneson has argued that his staff — in violation of state law — is paid less than counterparts in similar Minnesota counties even while the board pays itself, Meyer and other top administrators very generously.
The commissioners inoculated themselves somewhat against that argument with Tuesday's unanimous vote to not take a pay increase this year and to hold their $75 per diem ($50 for half-day meetings) at current levels.
"To try to keep the levy down, we need to take a stand ourselves," Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg said.
"I'd rather see the employees get the raises," said Purvis before the board unanimously agreed to the commissioner pay freeze.