CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk is in charge of a department of 88 employees and operates a jail that routinely has 130 inmates, but he isn’t the highest-paid employee in his office.
In 2018, Kowalczyk earned $87,543, as set by the Chippewa County Board. However, Chief Deputy Chad Holum will earn $95,610, county records show.
The Chippewa County Executive Committee discussed a resolution Tuesday that would set the wages for the sheriff, clerk of court and coroner. The discussion will continue next month. The full County Board will need to review a resolution in March to set the salaries for those positions for the next four years. Those seats are all up for election in November.
Kowalczyk, who has been sheriff for more than 11 years, provided a list of counties in the state with similar populations and sheriff’s workers. Kowalczyk earns less than sheriffs in Oneida, Polk, Sauk, Dodge, Calumet and Columbia counties — which all have fewer residents than Chippewa County’s 65,000.
“Of the 14 counties I did comparisons with, I am number 10 on the list,” Kowalczyk told the committee. “I am the only department head in Chippewa County where the second-in-command makes more than the department head.”
Kowalczyk added: “I want you to take into account what is fair and equitable.”
Kowalczyk said the department captain has earned more than the sheriff since 2015, when Undersheriff Gene Gutsch retired and the department was reorganized to create the chief deputy position.
Eau Claire County had a similar situation in 2014 when Sheriff Ron Cramer was making $5,000 less than his undersheriff. At the time, county Supervisor Kathleen Clark, chairwoman of the Human Resources Committee, said the sheriff had considerably more responsibilities than the undersheriff and less job security because he faced election every four years.
To rectify the issue, the County Board approved a pay increase for the position, and Cramer’s salary rose from $83,972 to $93,500, according to county records. The board’s action included 1.5 percent increases in 2016, 2017 and 2018. (The board also approved a pay increase for the clerk of court.)
The Eau Claire County Human Resources Committee, at its meeting Friday, is scheduled to review the salaries for the sheriff and clerk of court. Committee members have been asked to make any recommendations to the County Board before April 3.
In Chippewa County, Clerk of Court Karen Hepfler earns $72,619, while Coroner Ron Patten earns $14,168, plus $20 per day he is on call.
Hepfler said each county is set up differently, so it is difficult to make a direct comparison with wages for other clerks of court.
Patten said he and his staff receive $25 for viewing a cremation, but that is a two-hour process, and he thinks that wage should increase.
Human resources director Toni Hohlfelder said that last year, when wages for clerk, treasurer and register of deeds were set, the 2017 increase was 3 percent, with the following three years of their respective terms increasing by 2 percent.
Reporter Christena T. O’Brien contributed to this report.