February 10, 2016

Members of the Carroll County Conference Board approved Tuesday night — some reluctantly — a $2,500-per-year salary increase for the assessor’s office manager for the next two years.

The decision came after a debate of how to increase salaries for the two remaining employees in the office after current Assessor Brian Tiesman’s resignation becomes effective this Friday.

Tiesman previously requested the Conference Board, which is comprised of the county supervisors as well as mayors and school board members from throughout the county, approve increases for his administrative assistant, Judy Schreck, and field appraiser, Cindy Heuton, that were higher than the 2.6 percent across-the-board increase approved for county employees, elected officials and union employees for the upcoming fiscal year.

Tiesman’s proposed raises — from $46,434 to $50,000 for Schreck and from $30,750 to $45,000 for Heuton — reflected promotions to office manager for Schreck and deputy assessor for Heuton as well as the fact that the two would be running the office while a new assessor is sought and then training the new assessor.

Tiesman cited comparisons to other counties that pay assessor’s office employees more and have more employees in each office.

The assessor’s office sets the value of all properties in Carroll County to determine how much the property owners must pay in taxes, and hiring new assessors in rural counties is notoriously difficult because of the training the job requires.

During a Conference Board meeting held Jan. 20, the board approved a flat $5,000-per-year salary increase for Heuton for the next two years, which would place her salary at $35,750 for the upcoming fiscal year and $40,750 for the following year. At the same meeting, the board discussed the fact that Heuton was told when she was hired at the office that she would be given a raise once she passed the deputy assessor test. She passed that test in April 2015 but had not yet received a raise reflecting the change.

Also during the Jan. 20 meeting, the board approved a 2.6 percent salary increase for Schreck in keeping with other county employees’ increases, which would place her salary at about $47,640 for the upcoming fiscal year.

But the debate didn’t stop that evening.

During a Board of Supervisors meeting Feb. 1, several supervisors disagreed over the handling of the office’s salaries.

“You can pay people for what they’re worth, or you can treat them like dogs and they move on,” Supervisor Marty Danzer said.

“We’ve got to pay them for what they’re worth.”

He added, “Guys, we better wake up. If we don’t do something there, that office could be empty, and we’re going to replace three people instead of just an assessor. And those people are training a new assessor, and I think we need to reward them.”

During Tuesday night’s public hearing for the assessor’s office budget, Schreck’s salary came up again.

The Conference Board ultimately decided Tuesday to offer Schreck an additional $2,500 a year for the next two years. The salary increases for both Heuton and Schreck are flat dollar amounts and won’t be affected by the 2.6 percent raise for other county employees for next year, or whatever percentage raise might be approved for county employees for the following year.

Tiesman noted that since some of his allocated salary for the current fiscal year likely wouldn’t be used while he is gone and the office seeks another assessor, that money could theoretically be reserved to cover the salary increases for Heuton and Schreck next year. He added that the office doesn’t always use all of its allocated part-time employee funds, which could also help cover the full-time salary increases.

And, he said, since Schreck has been with the office for decades and is taking on more duties both as the office manager and while a new assessor is sought and then trained, the $2,500 yearly increase was necessary and fair.

“She is taking more responsibility and has been here the longest,” Tiesman said Tuesday. “She knows how the office runs inside and out and will be helping the new assessor train as much as (Heuton). I don’t feel she should be left in the dark here after 35 years of service.”

The mayors had not approved the previous vote to give Schreck a 2.6 percent increase, with only the supervisors and school board members voting for the change.

Carroll Mayor Eric Jensen said at Tuesday’s meeting that he believes the assessor’s office needs to have clearly outlined job descriptions and salary expectations for its employees so this problem can be avoided in the future.

“You’re just grabbing a number in the sky and you’re throwing it at us,” he said. “We should have a starting point, what that expectation and where that salary should be.”

And although Heuton’s new salary wasn’t re-discussed much at the Tuesday meeting, it didn’t necessary sit easily with the board, either.

“It all boils down to this: You are not paying your deputy assessor enough,” Dedham Mayor Russell Axman said, banging the table Tuesday. “You are not.”