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Chippewa County squad

This file photo from May 19, 2014 shows a Chippewa County Sheriff's Office squad vehicle.

The Chippewa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to increase the county sheriff’s salary by 17 percent over the next four years — but some supervisors fear it may not address a pay gap between the sheriff and the county’s chief deputy.

In 2018, Sheriff James Kowalczyk’s annual salary is $87,543, while Chief Deputy Chad Holum will make $95,610, documents submitted by Kowalczyk to the county say — a difference of more than $8,000.

About 30 percent of Wisconsin counties have a chief deputy whose annual salary is larger than the sheriff’s, a report from human resources director Toni Hohlfelder at a Feb. 20 executive committee meeting indicated. At the Tuesday meeting, Kowalczyk said that number is down to just four sheriffs throughout the state.

The board ultimately voted 10-5 to pass a resolution Tuesday granting the sheriff the yearly raises. The sheriff’s position will increase five percent in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and two percent in 2022.

As a result, Kowalczyk’s salary will increase to roughly $91,000 in 2019 and $103,000 by 2022, the resolution said.

Supervisors Larry Willkom, Steve Gerrish, Chuck Hull, Leigh Darrow and board chairman Anson Albarado voted against the resolution.

Some supervisors are concerned that the 17 percent raise won’t be enough to bump the sheriff’s salary ahead of the chief deputy’s salary.

Chief Deputy Chad Holum is eligible for 14 percent in salary increases over the next four years, human resources director Toni Hohlfelder said, bringing the chief deputy’s potential salary in 2022 to about $111,000 — still roughly $8,000 more than the sheriff’s salary under the new resolution.

“I just don’t understand how we can pass this resolution and not fill that gap. This is just simply leaving that gap for four years continuing down the road, and it’s never going to be filled unless we do that as a county board,” supervisor Florian Skwierczynski said.

Skwierczynski later proposed a 25 percent increase over four years for the sheriff’s position — which would bring Kowalczyk’s salary to roughly $111,000 by 2022, on par with the chief deputy’s pay — but it was rejected narrowly on a 7-8 vote.

“Our chief deputy is making more than the sheriff at the end of his last term. What incentive would it be for him to take a salary cut to come into the sheriff position? We’re going to lose probably the most experienced, highly qualified candidate for the position if we don’t do this correctly,” said supervisor Dean Gullickson.

A question of ethics

One supervisor said the process of determining a raise for the sheriff’s position has not been conducted properly.

Emails that included several supervisors discussing the matter had taken place, Supervisor Chuck Hull said.

“I believe what’s been going on behind the scenes could be a violation of the spirit of open meetings law,” he said. “I believe there’s been lots of discussion going on, emails between supervisors. Anyone should know (after) two years in office, that that’s a violation, maybe a walking quorum.”

Sheriff Kowalczyk was aware of the situation, corporation counsel James B. Sherman said.

County district attorney Wade Newell said Kowalczyk had told him about the issue, but said he has not officially reviewed any material involved in the matter.

In the works

Kowalczyk expressed concern about the pay gap at a Feb. 20 meeting, minutes say.

“I want to emphasize, this isn’t for me. This is for the office of sheriff. That could be anyone in 2018,” Kowalczyk told the county board Tuesday.

Kowalczyk also anticipates returning between $25,000 and $29,000 to the county out of his department’s 2017 budget, he said — something he says his department has accomplished in the past.

“I want you to take that into consideration, that I’m very fiscal with my budget, and I don’t spend the money that’s left over foolishly,” he said.

The clerk of courts and coroner — both elected positions as well — also receive raises underneath the new resolution.

The clerk of courts and coroner positions will get a 3 percent raise in 2019 and 2 percent each year through 2022. The coroner will also receive increases for cremation viewings and on-call days.

That brings the clerk of courts’ 2019 salary to $74,798, and the coroners’ 2019 pay to $14,593.

In other county board news:

  • The board approved a new full-time legal secretary position in the Chippewa County District Attorney’s office on a 13-2 vote. County DA Wade Newell says the position is needed to address the overflow of methamphetamine cases and a backlog of felony cases. Funding for the position — including a roughly $38,000 starting salary — has already been approved for 2018.
  • The board approved a resolution on a 13-2 vote to institute “Women in Public Office Day” on March 19 in Chippewa County. Supervisors Kari Ives and Annette Hunt spoke in support of the resolution, as did state Rep. Kathy Bernier.
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Chippewa Herald reporter

Sarah Seifert reports for the Chippewa Herald. Contact her with tips or story ideas at 715-738-1608 or at sarah.seifert@lee.net.

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