Study shows disparities in area counties’ salaries

Study shows disparities in area counties' salaries by David Lias Of Clay, Yankton, Union and Turner counties, Clay County ranked second in population but in many instances ranked third in the annual pay received by its elected officials.

That's according to a salary survey conducted in early 1997 by the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners and the South Dakota Association of County Officials.

The purpose of the survey was to present the most current salary and compensation figures of elected and appointed county officials and employees.

It does that, but little more. Researchers hoping for an analysis that explains why salary levels tend to differ depending on position, or depending on the county in which one is employed, won't find one in this report.

This salary survey was based on actual annual salaries or, in some instances, a salary range. There's no mention if experience, background, or years on the job were the reasons for differences in some salaries.

The information was provided to the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners and the South Dakota Association of County Officials by county auditors from across the state.

Of Clay, Union, Yankton and Turner counties, Clay County topped the pay scale in 1997 in three county positions: Sheriff, deputy sheriffs, and highway superintendent.

Two years ago, Clay County Sheriff Dusty Passick's annual pay was $36,700. He made just slightly more than the sheriff in Yankton County, who earned $36,432.

The 1997 pay of the Union County sheriff was $32,517. Turner County paid its sheriff $28,938 that year.

Clay County deputies, according to the survey, made from $21,400 to $26,700 annually. In 1997, Yankton County deputies surpassed that pay level, when one looks at their salary range. Yankton County paid deputies $20,124 to $38,419 annually.

Turner County paid its deputies from $20,640 annually to $23,395. Union County deputies were paid $9.62 per hour to $10.78 per hour.

Information on the pay earned by area county jailers is sketchy in the report. It notes that Clay County paid its head jailer $19,540 in 1997. The county paid its part-time jailers from $5.50 to $6 per hour.

Union County paid its jailer $8.48 per hour. No information is available on the 1997 pay of jailers in Yankton and Turner counties.

Clay County's highway superintendent's 1997 annual salary of $35,600 surpassed those of his contemporaries in the three other area counties, according to the report.

Yankton County's highway superintendent was paid $30,941 that year, just slightly more than the $30,800 made by the highway superintendent in Union County.

As in virtually every example of county salaries noted in the survey, the least amount was paid to positions in Turner County. The highway superintendent working out of Parker earned $27,690 in 1997.

The 1997 pay of Clay County's auditor, treasurer, register of deeds and director of equalization ranked third of the four area counties. Each of the four office-holders received an annual salary of $24,234.

Yankton County's elected officials topped the pay scale in 1997. That county's auditor, treasurer, register of deeds and director of equalization each made $27,732 annually.

Union County's elected officials also fared slightly better than Clay County's. The auditor, treasurer, register of deeds and director of equalization that work in the courthouse at Elk Point each made $24,834 in 1997.

Clay County's commissioners, with an annual salary of $7,140, ranked second of the four-county area in pay. Union County's commissioners topped the list with annual pay of $9,957.

Commissioners in Yankton and Turner counties placed third and fourth respectively, in 1997 pay, with annual salaries of $6,504 and $5,300.

Rich Sattgast, executive director of the South Dakota Association of County Officials, said in a telephone interview from his Pierre office that the 1997 study was conducted, in part, as a guide to help commissioners.

The governing bodies of South Dakota's various counties, could, for example, look at the study, find other counties that had similar factors, such as employee numbers, total area, total number of road miles, and total population, and use that information when it came time to deciding if their salary levels were correct.

The pay levels are the largest in South Dakota's heavier populated counties, such as Minnehaha and Pennington.

"There's a greater level of supervision by the department heads in those counties," Sattgast said. "They have more staff, and more administrative responsibilities."

He added that the South Dakota Association of County Officials has not established any definitive guidelines for determining proper levels of county employee pay.

"We can provide counties with information, but my understanding is that when commissioners from various counties get together," Sattgast said, "for whatever reason, they usually talk about these kinds of issues among themselves and share information.

"We provide no formal guidance or policy on what types of salaries should be set for certain positions," he added. "But if they (members of a county commission) were to ask us, we certainly would try to help them."

Factors that need to be taken into consideration, he said, include the typical amount of customer traffic in a county office (it's naturally higher in more populated counties), the total number of miles of county roads that a highway superintendent and crew is responsible for, and a comparison of pay for similar type of work in the private sector.

"When you talk about hiring private individuals rather than being served by an elected official, you may think you would be saving money," Sattgast said. "But it's always easier to save money with elected officials rather than hiring private individuals. Elected officials usually make far less than appointed department heads. The prestige does not come from pay, it comes from being elected by the people in the county that you serve."

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