CHIPPEWA FALLS — The Chippewa County sheriff will be getting a wage increase, but it will be spread out over four years rather than a one-time 13 percent hike. And the sheriff won’t be making more than the chief deputy next year.
The Chippewa County Board approved an amendment Tuesday on an 11-4 vote that increased the sheriff’s salary by 5 percent a year from 2019 through 2021 and then a 2 percent increase in 2022. The full measure passed on a 10-5 vote.
Voting against the amendment were Supervisors Larry Willkom, Chuck Hull, Anson Albarado and Florian Skwiercyznski. Voting against the final measure were Willkom, Hull, Albarado, Steve Gerrish and Leigh Darrow.
With the changes made Tuesday, the sheriff will earn $91,914 in 2019, $96,509 in 2020, $101,335 in 2021 and $103,362 in 2022, county human resources director Toni Hohlfelder said.
Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk is up for re-election this fall. The county is required to set the pay for each of the four years for that position prior to candidates taking out paperwork.
In 2018, Kowalczyk will earn $87,543, as set by a County Board resolution four years ago. However, Chief Deputy Chad Holum will earn $94,161, county records show. Hohlfelder said she didn’t know what Holum’s future salary would be beyond this year, but he is eligible for 3 percent raises.
Kowalczyk explained that when the county applied a wage study in 2013, Holum’s wages increased substantially when he was promoted to chief deputy. The starting salary for chief deputy — should Holum resign — is $89,209, Hohlfelder said.
Gerrish said he voted against it because no one should be getting that type of a wage increase, regardless of how or why the salary had fallen behind a worker in his department.
Skwierczynski made an amendment to increase the sheriff’s salary by 7 percent in 2019 and then 6 percent each year in 2020 through 2022, which would have resulted in the sheriff making about $300 more than the chief deputy that final year.
“This seems like an easy one-time fix,” Skwierczynski said. “Once the sheriff’s salary is ahead of the chief deputy, it will stay ahead of the chief deputy. I don’t understand how we can pass this resolution and not close that gap.”
Kowalczyk contends that no second-in-command should be making more than a department head; he is the only department head in Chippewa County to not be making the highest salary. Ideally, Kowalczyk said, the chief deputy would someday become sheriff, but a chief deputy might not run for the office if it means a significant pay cut.
“This isn’t for me, this is for the position of the sheriff,” Kowalczyk said.
In February, the county’s Executive Committee approved a plan to give the sheriff a one-time 13 percent wage jump, increasing Kowalczyk’s pay to $98,917 in 2019, so it would be higher than Holum’s wages. Afterward, the sheriff’s pay would have increased by 1.5 percent annually until it reached $103,435 in 2022.
Board members struggled to find a compromise Tuesday as they discussed several amendments.
“We have a gigantic mess here,” said Supervisor Dean Gullickson of the town of Tilden.
Supervisor Tom Thornton of Stanley proposed an amendment that the sheriff’s salary be increased by 3 percent in 2019 and then by 2 percent in each of the following three years. However, his amendment failed on an 11-4 vote.
Supervisor Jason Bergeron of Jim Falls spoke against Thornton’s amendment, saying the sheriff needs to be the highest-paid person in the department. He added it is not the County Board’s job to evaluate the sheriff; voters will do that at the polls.
Gullickson also spoke against Thornton’s amendment.
“Do you want to settle for the least, or do you want the best? This directly leads to recruitment,” Gullickson said.
Kowalczyk is in charge of a department of 88 employees, including operating a jail that routinely houses 130 inmates. 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.?
The County Board also set salaries for the clerk of court and coroner positions. An amendment that increased the on-call pay for the coroner from $20 a day to $50 passed on an 8-7 vote.