by CHRIS ROGERS
After voting late last month to increase wages for the county’s full-time, elected department heads by a total of $37,000, Winona County Board members will consider on Tuesday whether to give themselves raises, too.
Currently, the part-time County Board members earn $24,237 annually, plus health insurance and other benefits. On Tuesday evening, the commissioners will consider three proposed options: leaving their wages unchanged, giving themselves the same 2.5-percent cost-of-living adjustment county staff will receive, or raising their salaries to $33,266, a 37-percent increase. At the same meeting, the County Board will also hold a public hearing before voting on the 2018 budget and a proposed $1-million tax levy increase.
The three options were proposed by the Winona County Personnel Department, and the third option would bring commissioners’ pay up to the average salary of commissioners in seven other counties, which county staff and employee unions deemed comparable to Winona County. Late last month, the County Board voted 4-1 to raise wages over the next three years to bring the sheriff, county attorney, recorder, and auditor-treasurer’s pay up to the average of their peers in those seven counties. The County Board hasn’t voted to give its members a raise since 2008.
Of the elected bodies in Winona, County Board members are the best-paid, earning more than Winona City Council members or Winona Area Public Schools Board members. There are also fewer of them, with just five commissioners representing the whole county, compared to six council members and the mayor in Winona and WAPS’ seven-member board.
Citizens on both sides of mining debate vie for open seat
Ever since County Board member Marie Kovecsi flipped the balance of the County Board and defeated former member Wayne Valentine with an anti-frac sand platform in the 2014 election, environmental advocates have been slowly gaining more representation on the Planning Commission. Now, Planning Commission member Joy Fabian-Ewing is stepping down, leaving an open seat. The County Board will discuss who should fill it on Tuesday.
Fabian-Ewing helped property-rights advocate Steve Jacob win his first election, serving as his campaign treasurer, but as a Planning Commission member, she went her own way, voting opposite Jacob on decisions like whether to permit the largest commercial dog kennel in the county or whether expanded feedlots might threaten water quality.
Four citizens applied to replace her: Warren Township resident Robert Brekke, Rollingstone Township dairy and crop farmer Mark Clark, Homer Township resident and La Crescent teacher Amy Cordry, and rural Lewiston farmer Duane Wirt.
Wirt is a long-time Winona County Farm Bureau leader and a board member for the Stockton-Rollingstone-Minnesota City Watershed District. According to court filings, he was also part of the executive board for Southeast Minnesota Property Owners (SMPO), one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit unsuccessfully challenging the legality of Winona County’s ban on new frac sand mines this year.
In a letter to the editor this year, Cordry commended SMPO members for going to court to stand up for what they believe in, but criticized their decision not to identify the group’s members. “Only criminals and those ashamed of their actions hide their faces,” she wrote.
Mark Clark is the chairman of the Rollingstone Town Board and he spoke up at a hearing on the frac sand ban last fall, saying, “To me this is a property rights vote. I don’t want some small group of fringe people dictating how we can use our land.”
The Winona County Board will meet on Tuesday, December 12, at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the Winona County Government Center, 177 Main Street, in Winona. This meeting is open to the public.