By Anna McNeill
“I should have come down (here) initially,” were Judge Joshua Farrell’s opening remarks when appearing in front of the Clare County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, April 15, about the raise of his Magistrate and District Court Administrator, which is a discussion that has been going on since March.
The discussion of Karen Willing receiving an 11.63 percent raise, bumping her current pay of $58,000 per year to approximately $63,500, was finally put to a yes, no vote. The decisions was split four to three, with the motion to allow Willing to receive the 11.63 percent raise, consistent with the other court administrators raise, with funds to come from the current District Court budget for the remainder of this budget year, was approved.
Before the vote, there was much discussion over the state of the county’s revenue and expenditures.
Chairman Jack Kleinhardt said that he had nothing against Willing and he agreed that she is probably underpaid for the amount of works she does, but after receiving bad news from Equalization earlier in the meeting about an estimated loss of $30,000 in property tax, he has to take a much harder look at the county’s spending.
“I’m going to be watching finances a lot closer than I have been,” Kleinhardt said.
Kleinhardt hopes that his views of the future of the county’s financial affairs is going to get better, he voted against County Administrator, Tracy Byard, purchasing a new I.D. badge system, because he believed it to be an unnecessary cost, or a purchase that could wait. The purchase of the $2,475 system was approved with opposition only from Vice Chairman Dale Majewski and Chairman Kleinhardt.
When Kleinhardt brought up the issue of spending as a reason for voting against Willing’s raise, Willing asked to speak.
Willing had sat in on most of the early morning meeting and had witnessed the Comissioners voting to allow the Prosecutor to hire a replacement for her Legal Secretary, Valerie McClellan, early so that McClellan could train the new hire. This decision was approved with no opposition and Willing argued that it was unfair of them to have little discussion on that issue, which would cost more to hire early, but that when it came to her situation, it was all about saving money.
Byard replied that the position at the Prosecutors office would be hiring with a lower salary, so it wouldn’t be costing them more in the long run.
After the split vote and approval of Willing’s raise, Byard warned the Commissioners that they opened the flood gates and that they had denied other department heads raises and that they, and union workers who don’t pay for insurance would be coming out of the wood works. County Clerk, Pam Mayfield agreed with Byard.
“There’s going to be a lot of questions,” Mayfield said, “Tracy’s right.”
After a break, Byard came back and said that it had already begun and that a Friend of the Court employee would be attending the next meeting.
The discussion of spending and the issue of what is to come with the other department heads continued into the Commissioner Reports.
Commissioner Donald David said that he voted yes to allowing Willing her raise is because he believes that the County needs to start giving increases to department heads who are underpaid. He gave the example of Kim Halis in Equalization.
“We don’t want to loose her,” David said. If she were to quit, the state would come in and take over. If that happens, David said, “we’ll be paying them a lot more just to get them in the door.”
Commissioner Karen Lipovsky said that she realizes that this decision will bring in the department heads, but as the Board, “We’ll just have to deal with it as it comes.”
Chairman Kleinhard wrapped up the discussion saying that being a good business person/leader he realizes that it’s better not to spend more than the county brings in.
“We will have to raise some and lower others,” Kleinhardt said. “We’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”