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End-of-year bonuses raise ire of board chairman

Severson acknowledges nearly $25,000 paid by Miller, Phillips, Bates not illegal

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 7:58 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 7:58 a.m. CDT

Just under $25,000 in bonuses were given out of three county departments at the end of last fiscal year, says Grundy Board Chairman Ron Severson, and although this is not illegal, he called it a moral problem.

The Finance Committee met Tuesday and Severson alerted the members to the bonuses out of the county clerk's, treasurer's and state's attorney's offices. The bonuses in the state's attorney's office were given under former State's Attorney John Bates, not under current State's Attorney Jason Helland.

"There is no money missing, no illegalities going on, and it's partly our fault, too, for not looking close enough," Severson said.

On Wednesday, Treasurer Marcy Miller and County Clerk Lana Phillips argued they wouldn't have had to give their employees the one-time bonuses if the county took better care of their employees like they asked.

"I have two people and asked them to please take care of my two people," said Miller. "I went to two finance meetings and two budget meetings asking for them to take care of my people and they didn't."

Miller was present at Tuesday's meeting, but did not speak. Phillips was not there.

The treasurer employees received the 2.5 percent raise last fiscal year that all the county's non-union employees received. But, with her two employees working long hours on a new system, plus the increase in insurance costs, they deserved more, Miller said.

November payrolls for the county were Nov. 8 and Nov. 21, but on Nov. 29 there was a special payroll for those three offices. Severson obtained the information from the treasurer's office through a Freedom of Information Act request, he said.

Once an elected official's budget is approved by the board, they can spend it how they see fit, said Severson, as long as it is legal. He claims these three offices took leftover funds they had from line items that did not get fully spent and gave bonuses with the remaining money.

"The day before the fiscal year ended, they just drained whatever still had money in it," Severson said.

Although this is not illegal, it is not fair to the employees who did not get bonuses, said Severson. It causes "bad morale," he said, among county employees.

Both Miller and Phillips said Severson's allegation was completely untrue. The bonuses they gave from their two offices all came out of salary line items, not from other line items such as office supplies or capital funds.

"I wanted to compensate them. They had an extraordinary year with the two elections they had. They went over and above what they needed to," Phillips said.

The bonuses were taken out of the salary line item of her portion of the General Fund, said Phillips, and out of the salaries and "extra clerk" lines of her Record Document Storage Fund. The document storage fund comes into the clerk's office, but is not levied for by the county.

The bonuses for Miller's employees also came out of the salary line item because she was planning to hire a new employee, but only hired part-time help, so she had the money in her budget.

"If its 2.5 percent for everybody and that's all they can afford, but the General Fund ended much higher than it did last year," Miller said.

County Board secretary Sandy Pommier received more than the 2.5 percent when she received a bonus at the end of 2012 of $2,500 for her extra work taking on administrator duties.

"The difference was it went to finance and was voted on in a public meeting," said Severson Wednesday.

When county administrators Dan Duffy and Shawn Hamilton left, Pommier stepped up both times to take on their duties, he said. The bonus was for the about eight months over two years she took those responsibilities on.

Severson said her bonus was taken out of the County Administrator Fund, where that salary is budgeted for. But Miller said the documentation submitted to her office for the stipend was from the Contingency Fund, which does not have line items for salaries.

"They get to reward their employees, I want to reward mine," Miller said.

The amount of money the county clerk, treasurer and state's attorney's offices gave in bonuses was not shared, but Severson said it was almost $25,000 total.

Severson did say the bonuses ranged from $350 a person to $5,000 a person. Helland also said Bates gave his assistant state's attorney Susan Bates $800 the day before her last day on the job.

The total amount is alarming, he said, especially when there are programs in desperate need of funding, such as mental health programs and Drug Court.

Grundy County Coroner John Callahan was present at the meeting and said he was upset to hear of the other departments' actions when his office returned its left over funds to the county board. He said later his office returned $2,200 when it did not use all of its budgeted funds for additional on-call deputies.

FUTURE MEASURES
Severson said at the meeting the county isn't going to be asking for the money back, but wants to put measures in place so the county board is aware of any bonuses.

Assistant State's Attorney Perry Rudman said the county board should have a resolution stating personnel costs cannot come from other funds. 

Severson suggested that, during the budget process, the departments should make bonuses part of their estimated budget so they are a part of the budget approved by the county board.

"The problem is I, the county board and the Finance Committee didn't know about it and it was done on the last day of the fiscal year," he said after the meeting.

"There needs to be restrictions on what they can pay out beyond salary," Severson added.

Phillips explained that once the budgets are approved, it is the elected official's job of that office to stay within that budget, which she and Miller did. They did not go over budget, nor spend from other line items, she said.

"I look forward to David Allen Welter getting the salaries online so the public can see which individuals are given favoritism, " Phillips said.

Severson told the committee if an elected official feels someone in their department needs a bonus at the end of the year, they should come before the Finance Committee and tell the members how much they would like to give and why.

Another part of the problem, he said, is some departments are budgeting for a salary for an employee they want to hire in the future. But if they don't end up hiring, there is extra money in the budget. The assessor's office had $40,000 extra because of this, said Severson to the committee, but the assessor did not give out the extra money in bonuses.

If a department wants to hire someone and allocate money for that, they should go before the Personnel Committee, he said.

At the meeting, it was said that some of the bonuses out of the state's attorney's office came out of money from a grant, which is being investigated to see if there was any wrongdoing.

"There was money taken from a grant, to me that is illegal," said committee member Vicki Geiger.

Severson said he and Pommier are going through all the department budgets and expects to be amending this year's fiscal year budget. When the new human resources sirector starts, it will become that departments responsibility to check that all salaries match current employees.

"This is not Democrat, Republican or Presbyterian," Severson said.

County board vice chairman David Welter, who was filling in as chairman of finance in Chairman John Galloway and Vice Chairman Chris Balkema's absence, disagreed.

"I don't mean to bring up politics, but all were held by Democrats," he said.

Phillips said Wednesday all she and Miller did was give their employees what they deserve.

"The only people that can go to bat for our employees is us," she said.

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