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Sheriff would pay more for his benefits, but can't

If St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts had his way he would gladly chip in a portion of his compensation for health insurance and retirement...but it's not that simple.

"Morally I should do it, legally I can't," Shilts said Monday morning.

Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation in March that eliminates the right of collective bargaining for most public workers and calls for employees to pay 5.8 percent of their wages for retirement and 12.6 percent for health insurance premiums.

Currently it's not an issue in St. Croix County, but in March the Eau Claire County Board approved an ordinance requiring elected officials and other employees without a collective bargaining agreement to make employee required contributions.

The action caused Sheriff Ron Cramer to file a lawsuit last week to stop Eau Claire County from taking the additional portion from his paycheck.

"State statute says an elected official's compensation can't be raised or lowered during the term of office," Shilts said. "Until there is a change in the law by the legislature, that's the way it is and I took an oath to uphold the law as sheriff."

"I think I should pay it, but I can't until there is a change in the law," he said.

The sheriff noted while the law prevents the lowering of an elected official's salary during a term, it also prevents officials from getting a raise during the term of office.

State law requires a county board to set the compensation for a constitutional officer, such as sheriff, before candidates declare for the office.

"A candidate knows exactly what his compensation will be, no surprises, when making a decision to run for office," said Shilts.

The St. Croix County Board hasn't announced any similar action yet, said Shilts.

However, another county-elected official said the board has indicated it would wait to make such a move until the current litigation has run its course.

The sheriff's salary is $80,255 for this year and increases by 1.5 percent per year to $83,889 in 2014 when the current term expires as established the board's Resolution No. 16 in 2010.

A 2006 resolution by the board established the sheriff's pay at $75,603 in 2007 rising to $80,225 at the end of the four-year term in 2010.