Pointed and intense discussion preceded a 3-2 vote of approval by the Carlton County Board of Commissioners for a 10 percent increase in Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee's salary over a two year period. Commissioners Thomas Proulx and Gary Peterson voted nay. This follows a period of no raises for all County department heads due to budget concerns.
Freshly-elected Commissioner Peterson strongly noted, "I am voting no at this time. The money has not been budgeted in our current cycle. The impact of the flash flood of 2012 on county revenues is not known. We do not have a performance evaluation for each department head in place, and we should defer this decision until we have put that system into place."
County Coordinator Dennis Genereau pushed a decision. "Dave Lee runs a large department," he stressed, "which has over 130 employees. I think this is a fair proposal and is long overdue."
Commissioner Proulx just said, "I am not comfortable voting for this at this time."
"The program we provide in Carlton County is focused on service," explained Lee at the next county board meeting on May 28. "Historically, Carlton County has had a philosophy of 'pay now, pay for preventative services, or pay more later.' Carlton County has special considerations where we are ranked state-wide eighth highest in a population qualifying for disability and a higher suicide rate than most of Minnesota. Out of a $16 million budget $6 million is from county levy — $5 million of that levy dedicated to out of home care for child maltreatment, civil commitments for CD, mentally ill, and sex offenders. We have an aggressive billing service, employing two fulltime people, which brings in $500,000 + to our program."
At the May 28 meeting, Lee did not appear to address a salary increase at any time in the presentation. He noted that employee staff numbers varied from county to county in Minnesota depending on how many services are regionalized in cooperation with other counties or, as in the case of St. Louis County, the Civil Service System for many staff which are not trained social workers is used to fill positions.
Commissioner Peterson commented during the meeting and via telephone later, "It is really hard for us to provide oversight on your department. I appreciate you putting together this presentation."
He continued later, "I was elected to ask questions and help facilitate the best programs we can deliver with the funds available. This is a $10,000 raise over two years. We need to work on a process of performance evaluation to make these types of decisions. It should be a process, not a pop-up discussion which the effect on all department heads is not considered. I got an email from another department head which asked me how this affected a needed raise for their duties. We need to be more deliberate to treat all county employees fairly."
Director Lee will move from a Level 19 to a Level 21, which will give him a four percent salary increase for the next two years.