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Commissioners discuss increasing their salaries for 2022

While discussing the fact their salaries have remained flat for nearly two decades, the Cook County Board of Commissioners considered increasing their compensation for next year during a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 14 at the courthouse in Grand Marais.

Board Chair Dave Mills led the discussion and advocated for an increase in the amount the five-member board is paid annually. Mills said members of the county board have not increased their salaries since 2003. As it currently stands, the salaries for the commissioners start at $22,394. The vice chair is paid an extra $500 and the chair receives an extra $1,500. The commissioners also receive $100 for each meeting they attend specific to any county business, though they can receive no more than $100 per day regardless of how many meetings they attend.

Each commissioner shared ideas and sentiments on this topic during the meeting, with discussion points ranging from salaries to other forms of compensation, including per diems and meal cost reimbursement.

For example, Commissioner Ginny Storlie said the current allowance of $15 for a dinner while on official county business is not enough.

“It’s hard to get a dinner for $15,” Storlie said.

The state auditor’s office recommends that the county board approve the county commissioner salary and schedule of per diem payments annually regardless of whether or not the amounts will change.

A report detailing how much the county commissioners make annually was provided to WTIP in 2019 by Cook County Auditor Braidy Powers for the previous year’s compensation.

In 2018, total gross earnings were:

Myron Bursheim $41,312
Bobby Deschampe $31,993
Heidi Doo-Kirk $33,453
Jan Sivertson $29,204
Ginny Storlie $30,607

More recently, Mills was paid just over $32,735 for his work as a county commissioner in 2020, according to county records. Storlie, the only other current member of the county board who was also a commissioner last year, was paid just under $30,000 in 2020.

In addition to these costs, commissioners have the option of taking health insurance, public employees retirement association contributions and other benefits, Powers told WTIP. For example, the county covered more than $16,400 in health insurance for Mills in 2020.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, several of the commissioners noted that their compensation could prohibit young people from running for office. A low wage could also prohibit diversity on the board, the commissioners agreed. While discussing their compensation, Commissioner Stacey Hawkins said she took a pay cut in order to be a member of the county board.

The notion of increasing their compensation for 2022 essentially tabled a vote on the levy and next year’s budget. Both topics, the levy and commissioners’ salaries, are likely to be set during a meeting Dec. 21.

The preliminary levy was set in September at 4.5 percent over last year’s budget. The figure has recently been decreased to around 3 percent, thanks in large part to $134,111 federal grant for the public health department.

Given the restrictions of the preliminary levy, Cook County Administrator James Joerke said any increases to commissioners’ salaries for 2022 are likely to be in the 2.5 percent range, a reflection of the cost of living adjustments all county employees are on track to receive next year.

The audio below includes more information from the discussion during Tuesday’s meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.