In 2014, when Dan Maher was the St. Clair County administrator, his salary was set at more than $203,000. He had been in the position for nearly 30 years before retiring and moving to a part-time consultant’s role.
His Madison County counterpart, Joseph Parente, earned about $126,000 that same year.
However, an analysis of public payrolls by the BND showed that overall, Madison County spent about $5.4 million more in payroll in 2014 than St. Clair County, even though both had about the same number of employees.
March 15-21 is Sunshine Week, which celebrates the importance of public information in a free society and media’s role in the process.
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Each year, as part of Sunshine Week, the BND compiles salary information for public employees working for cities, villages, townships, school districts and public universities in the metro-east and makes it available online at bnd.com/salaries. Much of the information was obtained by requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
In 2014, the average salary for Madison County government employees and elected officials was $43,069 for 1,081 employees for a total of $46.5 million, compared with $39,155 for 1,050 St. Clair County employees and elected officials for a total payroll of $41.1 million.
According to current payroll records, there are 884 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees in Madison County, and St. Clair County has 984 positions, of which 157 are part-time.
Parente said it’s difficult to do apples-to-apples comparisons between the counties because each have different structures, and might have different services or departments. For example, Madison County runs the Madison County Historical Museum, while St. Clair County runs MidAmerica Airport.
Parente said Madison County has tightened its belt since the height of the recession. “It’s not fat around here,” Parente said. “We’re pretty lean in the way we operate.”
Parente said elected officials in Madison County have had salaries frozen for four years.
There was even a wage freeze for employees for one year because of the recession. The freeze was negotiated with the county’s five collective bargaining groups.
“We scaled back everything we do around here,” Parente said.
Parente pointed out the county has reduced the full-time equivalent since 2006, when it had 1,072 positions, to 2013, when it had 915 positions.
Parente added the Madison County Board tries to treat its unionized and non-unionized employees equally. If union employees receive a 2-percent raise, non-unionized employees would receive a 2-percent raise as well out of fairness. About 300 county employees are not part of a union, he said.
Current union contracts call for 2- to 2.5-percent raises, and contracts last three to four years, Parente said.
St. Clair County officials said they also have taken steps in recent years to keep salaries from increasing.
In 2014, the County Board agreed to freeze salaries of County Board members, the sheriff, treasurer and county clerk through 2018. Salaries for the County Board chairman, auditor, circuit clerk, coroner and recorder of deeds have been frozen through 2016.
Interim County Administrator Debra Moore, who took over for Maher last month, said the move was done as a way to prepare for possible financial shortfalls.
“(We were) anticipating budget problems due to state unfunded mandates and redistribution of shared revenue sources,” Moore wrote in an email.
For the 2015 fiscal year, St. Clair County also reduced its general spending by 15 percent, principally by having a sharp cut in part-time workers payroll. Moore added there have been salary freezes in the past for county employees.
Moore said that traditionally, sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers have received higher salaries than other employees, and the county has not had the practice of giving equal raises to other employees.
“St. Clair County salaries and benefits are tied to our ability to balance budgets and keep taxes low,” Moore wrote.
As the former head of the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department, Moore was scheduled to earn $144,707 in 2015. Her salary as interim County Administrator was not immediately available.
Frank Bergman, the human resources director for St. Clair County, said the presence of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Madison County may add to the competition for employees and help drive up wages. He noted the number of positions in the county has remained stabled in recent years.
St. Clair has unions representing employees in the Sheriff’s Department, Health Department, Juvenile Detention Center, Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, MidAmerica Airport and the county Highway Department.
This year, raises for employees across the county were budgeted at 2 percent, Bergman said.
Wages for employees also may be higher for those with longer tenures with the county as they have accumulated annual raises over the years, Bergman said.
Someone out of college would make less, “as opposed to someone who’s been there 15 years,” he said.