April 01, 2023

Tense moments end with budget approval

A firm discussion over proposed pay increases and certain budget expenses highlighted the Union County Conference board meeting Thursday at the courthouse.

The assessor’s office fiscal year 2024 budget was approved after a second vote on pay for assessor Mindy Schaefer. She had originally asked for an 8% raise plus a $4,000 wage adjustment to keep her pay more in line with other county assessors. The motion failed in a vote with no votes from the Union County Board of Supervisors and Creston school district representative Brad James and East Union school district representative Adam Tallman.

A second motion of 6% made by Tallman, but without a wage adjustment, was approved.

“I hate this fight,” Schafer said which she said seems to happen annually with the board.

The conference board is made up of representatives of taxing entities within the county, specifically schools and towns. Not every member was present.

During the board’s meeting earlier this month when Schaefer presented the budget with her original pay raise proposal, she was asked to further research her pay considering benefits comparing other county assessors.

“All of the numbers I’m giving you are budgeted numbers,” she said Thursday. She said not every assessor has the same benefit package and she did not get every assessor’s information. She only used family insurance plan information. Schaefer said she pays about $9 per pay period for a family plan noting other assessors pay less. Union County has options with insurance coverage.

Schafer’s goal is to have her pay between $79,000 and $86,000. She said she would agree to $74,0000. In 2021 she made $62,646 and was given a 3.5% raise last year. Historically, Union is one of two Iowa counties where assessor, auditor, recorder and treasurer are paid the same. Other than Schaefer, the other positions had a 3% increase last year. Schaefer does not have representation on the county compensation board.

“At some point you are gong to have to get this position caught up or you’re not going to have an easy time finding a replacement. I’m not saying, ‘I’m leaving,’” she said.

She said some counties have hired assessors with no prior experience at least at $70,000. The O’Brien County Assessor started at $80,000, with less county government experience than her. She started as Union County Assessor in 2019 after being the Adair County Auditor. Schaefer was appointed in 2021 for another six-year term.

“I shouldn’t be at 93 of 99,” she said about her pay compared to the other Iowa counties.

Supervisor Dennis Hopkins said it’s a struggle comparing counties.

“We don’t have the money Polk County has,” he said.

Hopkins said it would be “hard to explain” giving Schaefer a 13% increase why other county employees did not.

“We don’t have to keep up with the Joneses,” said Creston school board member Brad James using the expression.

The quality of her work was never questioned by anyone in attendance.

Schafer said a noticeable part of the fiscal year 2023 budget and 2024 is paying for the residential reevaluation project which started last summer. What is recommended by the state to be done every 10 to 12 years, it has been nearly 40 years for Union County. Because of the gap in time, county data is not applicable.

Schaefer said the total cost of the work is about $600,000. Supervisor Rick Friday said the assessor’s budget has nearly doubled in one year, which Schaefer said is because of the reevaluation. Her budget this year, without the reevaluation expense is $374,000 a 1.08% increase. The proposed fiscal year 2024 budget totals $418,000 including her original pay proposal and not the reevaluation.

Schaefer said the reevaluation will be paid in annual installments; $200,00 the first year (this year), $260,000 the next year and $60,000 a year until the balance is covered.

“We had nothing saved up to do this,” she said.

Using assessor related budgets and figures, Union County has the fifth highest levy in Iowa. Of the 99 counties Union County’s assessed evaluation ranks 89th. Union County’s expenses are 83rd not including the reevaluation. Including the reevaluation, the county is at 39.

She also had included $15,000 for an office vehicle last year, and is now at $25,000 for an anticipated purchase in 2025. She said the use of her personal vehicle for work has added additional miles and related expenses. Her approved budget last year included some car-related expenses.

Schaefer referred to Iowa Code that states the board of supervisors are to fund all office settings, and supplies for assessors.

“That doesn’t happen. We pay for our own supplies, about $4,000 a year,” she said.

Schaefer said the county’s general fund is supposed to pay for assessor plat maps which also has not hapened. “That is about $34,000,” she said.

“According to Iowa Code, that should be coming out. I have no problem leaving that in, but in order to meet those needs, increasing the levy by .86% is a minimal amount and justified,” she said about those expenses.

Supervisor Rick Friday said the county has used reserve funds to prevent some expenses, including employe benefits, to be shown in tax asking. Neither he nor Hopkins provided further explanations.

Supervisor Dennis Brown and Lorimor’s representative were not in attendance.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.