The Tazewell County Board on Wednesday set the salaries for the next four years for three elected positions, one of which will mean a lower salary for a long-time employee seeking to be sheriff.
The three positions — the clerk, sheriff and treasurer — have been the topic of conversation for the past few months. The salaries by law had to be set by May 31. The county board opted to freeze salaries at current levels for the first two years of elected terms and give a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in both of the last two years. The county is experiencing financial issues, which has meant a hiring freeze and now has resulted in no pay increases for two years for the three positions.
Tazewell County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jeff Lower won the primary in March and as of yet does not face a challenger for the November general election. Lower currently makes $114,630 as chief deputy. If elected as sheriff in November, he will make $113,029 for two years and then get a COLA increase in the last two years. Lower could not be reached for comment by press time.
Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman said salaries are “always a difficult conversation.” Legally, the board could not consider the person in the position — experience and so on. The board had to consider the position only.
“Jeff is an outstanding — I mean an outstanding deputy sheriff,” said Zimmerman. “He’s easy to work with, he’s competent, he’s what you want in a sheriff, but especially in light of the financial situation that Tazewell County is facing, we had to treat every position as the position and not the individual.
“So what we did is we were consistent across the board. I am comfortable with the decision we made. Jeff will take a little hit here for a year or two until the COLAs kick in in two years and hopefully he can catch up at that time.”
The fact that Lower, a 29-year veteran of the department, will take a reduction in pay if he is elected as sheriff should not impact future prospects for elected officials in Tazewell County, said Zimmerman.
“Even though Jeff (could) take a small pay cut (if) elected, the county still pays very well compared to the median wage,” said Zimmerman. “I guess the analogy that I would use is we will never be the top paying county in the state of Illinois.
“We never have been and we never will. So that’s the risk that we take. Occasionally, we lose people that go to Peoria County. We lose good officers to the state police.”
The Tazewell County Treasurer Mary Burress will be frozen at $82,157 if she is re-elected, which is her salary at this time, and receive COLA increases in the last two years of the term. Burress has been treasurer for 12 years and is seeking re-election with no competition at this point.
Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb is not seeking re-election. She has served as county clerk for 24 years, and her salary is now $83,707, which is what the clerk taking office after the November elections would make. At this point, John Ackerman won the March primary and faces Brittany Miller in the November election. Ackerman has no experience as a clerk. Some Human Resource Committee members felt it was unfair for someone with no experience to come in making what a 24-year veteran clerk did.
The Human Resources had considered three possibilities — a freeze for four years, a two-year freeze with a cost of living raise in the final two years of the term, or a 2 percent raise in all four years of the term. The second option was recommended to the full board.