Washington County attorney, sheriff will receive pay increases

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2012 - 5:17 PM

The two longest-serving commissioners leave the board after losing seats in November election.

Several top leaders in Washington County government will receive salary increases in 2013, making their compensation more competitive with their peers in other metro counties.

County Attorney Pete Orput's salary will grow 3 percent to $135,795. For Sheriff Bill Hutton, a 2.4-percent increase will raise him to $135,795 as well. Both men hold elective office.

The five members of the County Board, however, voted to freeze their personal salaries for the fifth consecutive year. They will be paid $52,713, a figure that Commissioner Autumn Lehrke said falls 26 percent below the metro average and makes a case for voting in an increase.

"But we're not. Why? Because we're public servants," she said.

Commissioners in Washington County trail their counterparts in Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Anoka counties in annual salaries, but Lehrke and her fellow board members voted unanimously in favor of no increase.

"I'm cautioning the board to remember in the future when you set salaries to not sell yourselves short," said Dennis Hegberg, who was voted off the board after 23 years.

Salary increases for Orput and Hutton were justified, board members said, because of strong performances and comparisons with other large Minnesota counties.

Even after Tuesday's vote, Orput will earn less than top prosecutors in Dakota, Stearns, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Olmstead counties. Hutton ranks in the top four of those counties.

"I'm grateful and thankful to the commissioners for their trust in my leadership," Orput said after the meeting. "I don't do it for the money. I think it was a vote of confidence."

Salary increases also were given to the county's chief administrator, Molly O'Rourke, who will receive a 1.5-percent increase to $147,609. The board promoted O'Rourke to the top job last year.

"When Jim Schug retired, he was a legend, and Molly is well on her way to becoming that," Kriesel said.

Hegberg, the board chairman, said in jest: "We very much appreciate your service, and it will continue. We're not firing you today."

O'Rourke, laughing, said she was relieved to hear that.

Orput's first assistant attorney, Brent Wartner, will receive $122,216, which is 90 percent of Orput's salary. Hutton's chief deputy, Dan Starry, will receive $122,216, which is 90 percent of the sheriff's salary.

The annual compensation decisions are required by law for specific jobs, including Orput's executive assistant, Cathy Rochel, who will earn $52,498.

The brisk end-of-the-year meeting became emotional at times as Hegberg and the board's other longest-serving commissioner, Bill Pulkrabek, said goodbye. Hegberg, of Forest Lake, lost in November's election to Fran Miron in District 1. Pulkrabek lost to fellow Oakdale resident Ted Bearth in District 2.

"You have been a wise and steady voice for the county over two decades," Commissioner Lisa Weik said to Hegberg, who chaired the board this year. "Dennis is very well known. He always has stepped up and taken leadership roles."

Gary Kriesel described Hegberg as a "free spirit" who makes reasoned, independent decisions, and Pulkrabek thanked him for being a mentor.

"Even though we don't agree on everything, the one thing I love about you is that you present your opinions in a classy, professional way," Lehrke said.

Pulkrabek, who joined the board in 1998, was lauded for his work to keep tax rates low and budgets tight over the years.

"What a friend to the taxpayers Bill's been over his career here," Kriesel said. "I don't know anybody more tenacious."

Although sometimes criticized by fellow board members for missing meetings, Pulkrabek read an upbeat statement before his departure. "If I had one thing I should have done more often on the County Board, I should have said 'thanks' more often," he said, naming several county officials who helped him over the years.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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