For the first time in more than 10 years, the Anoka County Board is declining a pay raise.

County commissioners said they are forgoing raises in 2021 after a year of widespread financial hardships related to the pandemic, but county employees, including top earners, are getting a 2% merit-based salary bump.

"It's a small gesture in the scale of our budget," Commissioner Mandy Meisner said of declining a raise. "But for the last nine months of witnessing and living in this pandemic, I've seen a lot of significant burden on the staff. They can't stop providing services."

Other county boards in the seven-county metro are also opting out of pay raises. The Hennepin County Board recently voted 5-2 to decline a salary increase next year. In Ramsey County, the board must pass an ordinance for compensation changes, and commissioners chose not to pass an ordinance for 2021. The Dakota and Carver county boards are discussing 2021 compensation next week.

Anoka County, the fourth-largest in the state, had the sixth-highest board compensation in the metro in 2020. Annual salaries for commissioners in Hennepin County top the list at nearly $114,000, followed by $97,000 in Ramsey County, $86,000 in Dakota County and roughly $72,000 in both Scott and Carver counties.

In Anoka County, commissioners next year will earn around $71,600 the same as in 2020.

So far, Meisner is the only board member to formally decline a raise. The deadline to do so is Dec. 24, and county spokesman Erik Thorson said all seven commissioners have communicated with county administrator Rhonda Sivarajah that they are not taking a pay increase.

Sivarajah, who has been administrator since last June after resigning as board chairwoman, will see a 2% salary increase, which the board approved for all nonbargaining employees at a meeting earlier this week. Her compensation in 2021 is $179,000 while county attorney Tony Palumbo will earn $188,000; Sheriff James Stuart will earn $170,600. The highest earners in the county are doctors at the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office, but their wages for 2021 weren't immediately available.

Meisner said that while she declined her pay raise, she wanted county staff to get a raise because she "witnessed the significant burdens of our staff as they continued to provide services to our community without missing a beat" during the pandemic.

Commissioner Jeff Reinert said "now wasn't the time" to accept a raise with so many families hurting due to COVID-19 and Gov. Tim Walz's recent executive orders shutting down businesses.

Commissioner Matt Look said he wanted zero raises countywide to match the 0% property tax levy increase the County Board approved Dec. 4. He said the "optics are horrible" to give and expect raises while people are suffering from unprecedented hardships.

The last time an Anoka County commissioner declined a raise was in 2009, when then-commissioner Sivarajah and Commissioner Robyn West rejected a 4% proposed increase.

"When everyone was losing their homes, I could not imagine taking a 4% increase," West said in an e-mail. "All of my colleagues and I are declining the 2% next year for the same reason."

Staff writers David Chanen and Katy Read contributed to this report.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751