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The pay's OK -- for government work -- A look at pay and benefits for DL city council, DL school board and Becker County board

DETROIT LAKES -- Serving on boards and committees takes time -- some more than others. With the top three elected boards in Detroit Lakes, members get some sort of compensation -- some more than others.

Each board covers a population within a population. Detroit Lakes City Council represents those of the city, which lies within the Detroit Lakes Public School District, which lies largely within Becker County.

Becker County Board

The Becker County Board members --Larry Knutson, chair for 2008, Barry Nelson, Karen Mulari, Harry Salminen and John Bellefeuille -- represent a population of about 32,000 constituents.

Each member is paid $22,137 a year for his or her service, with the chairman earning an extra $600.

County Administrator Brian Berg said each year the board usually gets a 3 percent pay increase, which is passed in the form of a resolution by the board.

"It's usually the same as the general increase for county employees," Berg said.

The board members aren't required to serve a certain number of hours or on a certain number of committees to earn that pay, but each member serves on roughly a dozen committees. Other than regular commission meetings -- scheduled for the second and fourth Tuesday of each month -- board members receive $50 a day for other meetings attended.

Besides the compensation, commissioners also receive health benefits, which cost about $12,300 per commissioner per year. Why those benefits are offered is unknown though.

"I guess I can't give a reason," Berg said. "That's just the way it is."

He added that most, not all, counties offer health benefits to the elected board. To his knowledge, he said all the Becker County commissioners take advantage of the health benefits.

"It's within the range of what other counties receive," Berg said, saying he thinks the compensation is fair.

He said the chairman receives more compensation because he or she has more responsibilities.

"I would like to say they do (have more responsibilities). They're in a leadership role, they set the tone for the county."

Berg said he meets with the chair on a regular basis because someone on the board should know what's going on with personnel, which is confidential. If the entire board were to discuss personnel issues then there would be issues with the open meeting law, he said.

Detroit Lakes City Council

The city council -- which consists of aldermen Bruce Imholte, Leonard Heltemes, Walt Tollefson, Jim Anderson, Matt Brenk, G.L. Tucker, Dave Aune, Ron Zeman and James Hannon -- is lead by Mayor Larry Buboltz. The council represents a population of about 8,000 residents.

Each council member is paid $3,600 a year, with the mayor receiving $7,050. They also have the option of health benefits. Some of the members take the single package, some take the family package, and one doesn't take the health coverage at all. Total cost to the city for 2008 is $88,375, with the single policy at $439 a month and family at $1,089.50 a month.

Although many cities don't offer health benefits to their aldermen, Detroit Lakes has since, well for as long as anyone can remember.

"I don't believe too many do it, not around here," City Finance Officer Lou Guzek said of other cities offering health benefits. So why Detroit Lakes? "I don't know. Always has been."

There are over 800 cities in Minnesota and fewer than 10 percent offer health benefits to their councils.

League of Minnesota Cities' Erin Rian said, "it's not common to extend benefits to councils. More so in the metro or larger cities because it tends to be more full-time jobs."

But, she added, it's an option for cities and decided on an individual basis.

One compensation matter that sets the city apart is that councilmen don't receive any other per diem for other meetings attended. Each member serves on about three main committees for the city, and then are also representatives on other community committees, such as library board and airport commission. There is no requirement for how many hours each councilman must serve to earn his compensation.

The city council hasn't raised its compensation since 2004, when it approved a $300 per year increase.

"State law dictates in an election year it has to increase," Guzek said, explaining that if someone is running for a council position, they need to know before being elected how much they will be compensated for their time.

DL School Board

The school board -- comprised of Tom Klyve, chair, Deanna Sinclair, LuAnn Porter, Tom Seaworth, Dave Langworthy and Terrie Boyd -- receives compensation but no health benefits for the service they bring to about 2,800 students and about 500 staff. They represent a district of more than 15,000 residents.

For the 2007-2008 school year, which runs July 1-June 30, the board set a compensation rate of $2,400 a year for regular meetings. Special meetings of the board and conventions or seminars a board member could attend bring an extra $60 a day.

District Business Manager Ted Heisserer said that pay rate hasn't changed in several years.

There are 31 committees, which means each board member serves on six to eight committees.

Unlike the city and county, school board members are not offered health benefits.

"They never have been. I'm not sure it's been discussed," Heisserer said.