Salaries take center stage during town budget hearing

Grabow opposes raises, makes case that clerk, treasurer are paid more than counterparts before compromise reached

By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM

Ozaukee Press staff

  A $1.825 million budget for 2023 was approved by the Grafton Town Board following a public hearing last week, but it wasn’t the budget that took center stage.

A debate over the salaries and benefits paid to the town clerk and treasurer formed the basis of most of the discussion during the hearing and subsequent meetings of the board and town electors.

Supr. Tom Grabow brought the matter up during the budget hearing, saying he opposed a cost of living increase for both Clerk Sara Jacoby and Treasurer Bonnie Bartel.

“Since we put the cost of living (increase) in, the salaries have gone up tremendously,” Grabow said.

According to Grabow, the clerk’s salary has increased from $50,000 in 2014 to $56,478 — a figure that includes a $12,000 insurance stipend — in 2022.

The treasurer’s salary, he added, has increased from $50,000 in 2014 to $70,854, which also includes a $12,000 insurance stipend, this year.

The proposed cost of living increase, he said, would add $3,870 to the clerk’s salary and $5,120 to the treasurer’s pay.

Grabow provided a five-page document outlining the salaries of clerks throughout the area as well as averages from the Wisconsin Towns Association.

The Town of Belgium, Grabow said, pays its treasurer $8,000 and its clerk $26,000, while the Town of Port treasurer receives $8,500 and its clerk $42,000, plus a $3,800 retirement account and $50 per diem.

He said the Town of Cedarburg clerk is paid $57,281 annually and its treasurer receives $10,000, and the Town of Fredonia’s clerk receives $22,500 plus $25 per meeting attended and its treasurer is paid $4,500.

The Town of Saukville treasurer receives $11,000 annually, Grabow said, and its clerk is paid $25.88 an hour plus $25 per diem, a total of about $25,000.

While Grabow made a case comparing these numbers, Town Chairman Lester Bartel, whose wife is the town treasurer, said it’s difficult to compare salaries between townships.

“To compare us to the towns of Saukville, Fredonia and Belgium isn’t realistic,” he said.

The Town of Cedarburg has five or six employees, Bartel noted, so the treasurer strictly handles those duties.

“We have two (employees) for a population that’s 70% of theirs,” he said, so the Town of Grafton’s clerk and treasurer each handle a wide range of duties. And, he added, many town offices are only open a few days a week, while Grafton’s is open daily.

“It’s never not busy here,” he added, noting there are times when the clerk and treasurer log 60 to 70 hours a week.

Bartel also noted that the town doesn’t provide a full insurance package or retirement package, and it has not always provided cost of living increases.

That’s important, he said, noting that Jacoby will become a certified clerk next year and other municipalities may come knocking at her door.

“I guarantee it’s going to be difficult to keep her here,” Bartel said.

Supr. Karron Stockwell noted that the clerk’s base salary is $44,000.

“That’s not a lot of money,” she said, adding the town doesn’t offer the benefits many other communities provide.

One town resident noted that the cost per resident in the Town of Grafton is relatively low compared to other townships.

But another resident questioned the amounts, saying, “It would seem Grafton is pretty generous with the salaries we pay our employees.”

Bartel ultimately cut off discussion on the salaries, noting that the public hearing was on the 2023 budget. Salaries, he said, “are part of our (the Town Board’s) job.”

Following the public hearing, the electors approved a $1.5 million levy for 2023, an increase of 1.37% from last year, with Grabow dissenting.

The tax rate needed to support the levy is $2.03 per $1,000 assessed valuation, a decrease of 10 cents, or 5%.

When the Town Board considered the budget after the meeting of the electors, Stockwell, who noted that inflation is at 8.7%, suggested that the town offer a cost of living increase of 4.35%, half of what was originally proposed.

That, she said, would increase the clerk’s salary by $1,900 and the treasurer’s by $2,560.

That was adopted by the board, with Lester Bartel abstaining. Supr. Paul Melotik was absent.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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