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FRIDAY, Jan. 25 — It’s not “terribly attractive” to serve on Ingham County’s Board of Commissioners, explained Mark Grebner. The hours are long. The salaries are small. And the workload can pile up over the course of the year, he said.
So how do you fix the problem? Simple. Bump up the payscale.
Commissioners voted 10-3 last month to give themselves their first raise in two years. The shift jumps standard commissioner salaries 2 percent, to $11,880 annually. Chairman Bryan Crenshaw will earn $17,774 annually and committee chairpeople will receive $12,958 each over the year.
Additionally, commissioners received an increase of $15 in per-diem payments for attending meetings.The new rate is $75 per meeting, with a maximum of $6,000 for the year.
The vote keeps commissioner salaries in line with other raises this year. Clerk Barb Byrum, Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth, Prosecutor Carol Siemon and Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann — just to name a few — also received a 2 percent bump heading into 2019. Those figures are listed in detail below.
The 2 percent increase applies to non-judicial countywide elected officials. Grebner said it was only fair that commissioners received raises.
Steadily rising inflation rates, paired with a lack of pay increases in the past, have gutted the value of their salaries. And Grebner’s historical analysis shows that commissioners have developed a habit of shortchanging themselves.
“I’m always pushing to raise commissioner compensation,” Grebner said. “I’m the only person on the board who seems to care about that, and I usually get ignored like I’m a flea or a mosquito buzzing around the room or something. This time, the board decided to go through with it. I don’t have any idea what changed it for them.”
Grebner said adequate pay is ultimately a requirement so commissioners can feel valued for their service, and it would only continue to decline without board action. He also contended that salary increases would help curb an ever-rising amount of turnover among commissioners and help to level the financial playing field.
“Our compensation just keeps falling further and further behind inflation,” Grebner said. “The reason for that? Sometimes the board gives itself a raise and sometimes the board is dominated by people running for state representative. They end up taking this sort of position that they’re helping save money. It’s about appearances.”
The vote keeps commissioner salaries flat for 2020. Commissioners can also receive up to $3,000 annually for travel reimbursements.
When accounting for inflation rates, Grebner maintains commissioners are still paid less now than they were decades ago. In today’s dollars, commissioners were paid about $29,000 annually in 1977, Grebner estimates.
Commissioners Randy Schafer, Ryan Sebolt and Thomas Morgan voted against the recent increases. Commissioner Deb Nolan was absent from last year’s vote, but it wouldn’t have changed the results. For Sebolt, his opposition was based largely on principle and the political optics of giving himself a pay raise.
“I just didn’t feel the timing was right on this one,” Sebolt added. “We just recently have been able to stabilize the county from a financial standpoint. Following the recession, Ingham County employees are just now starting to see some modest pay increases. I just thought there should be a little more time before we received a raise.”
Morgan said he did not think it was appropriate for commissioners to give themselves a raise when many Lansing residents live below the poverty line. According to the u.S. Census, more than 27 percent live below the poverty line.
For Schafer, serving as a county commissioner simply isn’t about the money. He’ll always oppose a raise for himself.
“Our employees are really paid less than what they’re worth,” Schafer added. “I think they’re underpaid. I’ve also seen many staffing cuts and I just don’t feel good about voting for a salary increase for myself when I see our employees are struggling. The money, for me, isn’t an issue. I’m just fine with the way things already are.”
But the majority of the board looked past those objections.
“I thought about the number of hours over the last couple of years and it has just been an enormous amount of time,” Crenshaw said. “We kept it at the same rate as other employees. We won’t receive a raise in 2020. It’s just becoming increasingly more time consuming to be a county commissioner and we had to factor that in.”
Ingham County Salaries
Commissioners — $11,647/$11,880
Commission Chairperson — $17,425/$17,774
Commission Vice Chairperson/Committee Chairpeople — $12,704/$12,958
Clerk — $92,630/$94,483
Drain Commissioner — $86,588/$88,320
Prosecuting Attorney — $133,396/$136,064
Register of Deeds — $86,588/$88,320
Sheriff — $124,935/$127,434
Treasurer — $99,800/$101,796
Commissioner Per Diem Rates
1977-80 — $30
1981-94 — $0
1995-96 — $30
1997-00 — $45
2001 — $50
2002-03 — $55