DIXON – No one in Lee County government is talking publicly about a wage freeze these days.
Tuesday, big County Board majorities approved raises for nonunion employees and union highways workers.
In 2011, when the County Board approved $1,000 pay hikes for nonunion employees, many said they would favor a wage freeze for all employees by the end of 2012. That’s because, starting next year, the county expects to lose $1 million a year in income from its contract with the owner of the Lee County Landfill.
Despite the expected fiscal cliff, Tuesday was a time the board decided to increase spending. Members voted to allow the sheriff to hire another deputy and put more money into the public defender’s budget.
After a half-hour closed session, the board approved 2 percent annual increases for highway employees for the next 3 years. Nonunion workers are getting $1,000 pay hikes in the first and third years and $750 in the second year.
The nonunion deal was the same that union employees of the county clerk’s and treasurer’s offices received in an agreement reached in December.
The board had been slated to consider a contract for sheriff’s employees, represented by the Fraternal Order of Police. But officials said members would vote on that agreement next month.
For the nonunion raises, the board voted 18-1 in favor. Gerald Leffelman, R-Sublette, was the only one against it, while Tom Kitson, R-Dixon, abstained because his daughter is a nonunion employee. Vern Gottel, R-rural Sterling; Tim Deem, R-Dixon; Dave Chandler, R-Dixon; and Ann Taylor, R-Amboy, were absent.
In opposing the highway workers contract, Leffelman was joined by David Gusse, R-Dixon, and Dick Binder, R-Compton.
Leffelman said he voted against the increases because he would rather the county give them in the form of bonuses. In so doing, he said, the county wouldn’t have the extra expense of matching retirement payments.
Binder said he voted against the pay hikes for the highway employees because both sides are supposed to gain something through a negotiation.
“What’s our piece of the pie?” he asked.
Gusse explained his opposition to the union contract by saying he preferred flat-dollar increases because they benefit employees lower on the pay scale.
In other business
It's on the schedule every month: The Lee County Board gets a doughnut break 45 minutes after its meeting starts.
Tuesday, new member Tom Kitson, R-Dixon, suggested healthier snacks.
"I recommend that we get fresh fruit," he said. "Obviously, some of us like myself don't need doughnuts."
Others said it was an idea worth trying.
Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said if no one objected, he would have county staff include fruit among the refreshments.
Also Tuesday, after a closed session, the County Board approved making an offer to buy property for a county animal control building.
Officials wouldn't reveal the amount of the offer or the property in question.
The animal control office now is on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 5 miles from River Ridge Animal Hospital on state Route 2 west of town where animals are impounded. The animal hospital increased its basic rates from $1,600 to $1,900 a month, and other fees also increased. Because of that, the county has been looking for a place of its own to house animals.