Kewaunee County Administrator Scott Feldt discusses the proposed 2018 county budget during Tuesday’s meeting of the County Board. The budget is scheduled for final approval Nov. 7.

By Warren Bluhm

The Kewaunee County Board trimmed a salary increase for its county administrator Tuesday before voting to approve it.

The Personnel, Advisory and Legislative Committee recommended jumping Administrator Scott Feldt four steps on the county salary schedule for the position, from $44.33 an hour this year to $49.89, or from $92,206 annually to $103,771, effective Jan. 1, a 12.5 percent increase.

But after elected department heads and members of the general public expressed concerns, the raise was scaled back a step and approved at $48.44, which represents a $100,755 annual salary and a 9.3 percent boost.

Feldt has been at Step 2 in the county pay plan for his position. The committee conducted his performance review in closed session in August and emerged to recommend moving him to Step 6.

Five elected county department heads each filed letters to the County Board objecting, citing the county’s precarious financial position that led to the board establishing a 0.5 percent sales tax. Most other county employees are in line for slightly less than a 2 percent increase in 2018.

Supervisor Mary Ellen Dobbins made the motion to move the administrator to Step 5. She said she considered pulling the raise back to Step 4 but felt the committee had its reasons for recommending a higher increase.

“I’m trying to respect Personnel and their decision, but I’m also trying to respect county employees and what some of them have shared with me and constituents who have contacted me,” Dobbins said.

Supervisor Linda Teske countered that the idea of creating the step pay plan was to have a system that is fair to all county employees.

“I do not feel that this step – this humongous step – is fair,” Teske said. “Yes, I do know the Personnel Committee did a lot of work on this, but I’m also looking at the employees. I don’t feel this is fair to them.

Supervisor Virginia Haske called Feldt “one of the best things that’s happened to Kewaunee County” and said she’s glad he’s here, but with the volume of calls asking about the size of the increase, she felt bringing it “down one notch” was appropriate.

Supervisor John Mastalir, who sits on the Personnel Committee, said four comparably-sized counties in this region – Calumet, Marinette, Oconto and Waupaca – are all paying their administrators “well over” what Kewaunee County is paying Feldt.

He referred to the city of Kewaunee’s two-year search before hiring City Administrator Fred Schnook, and he said if Feldt were to leave the county should expect to pay $20,000 to $30,000 more for a replacement.

“I trust him; I admire him for what he has done; and I think we, I honestly believe we need to put our support behind him and pay him,” Mastalir said.

Dobbins’ amendment to change the increase to Step 5 passed 11-9.

The resolution also included a two-step increase for Finance Director Paul Kunesh, from $79,372 to $84,219, a 6.1 percent increase.

“There is absolutely no doubt, I think, on my part and the balance of the Finance Committee that the finance director has paid his way in multiples,” said Supervisor Lee Luft, who chairs Finance.

The board approved the resolution 13-7; dissenting votes were cast by Teske, Pat Benes, Scott Jahnke, Gerald Paape, Ron Paider, Linda Sinkula and Tom Romdenne.

Although several supervisors said they’d received a number of phone calls and social media comments about the issue, no one raised the matter during the monthly Public Comment section of the meeting. The 2018 budget public hearing was also held Tuesday, but no members of the public commented.

After the meeting Feldt said as a public employee he understands his compensation can be a matter of public debate and he is content with whatever salary the board chooses to give him.

“This is not about the money,” he said.