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Employment — public officials’ compensation — fringe benefit contributions

Wisconsin Court of Appeals

Civil

Employment — public officials’ compensation — fringe benefit contributions

Wis. Stat. § 59.22(1)(a)1, which prohibits counties from altering elected officials’ compensation during a term of office, does not bar counties from requiring increased contributions to fringe benefits.

“Cramer’s overarching position is that the term ‘compensation’ in the statute must be construed to include fringe benefits. He first argues this construction is required by the use of the term ‘total’ annual compensation in the first sentence. Contrary to Cramer’s argument, however, the term ‘total’ is not rendered surplusage by excluding fringe benefits from the meaning of compensation. Rather, ‘total’ can still be given effect by construing it to include both salary and fees. As the second sentence of the statute explains, compensation can be comprised of salary, fees, or combination thereof. Additionally, ‘total’ can be given further effect by construing it to include payments sourced from both the county treasury and other sources, such as the state treasury. This second construction is especially compelling because the term ‘total’ follows closely after the ‘in whole or in part’ source-of-payment language. …

“Cramer alternatively argues that, even if compensation means only salary, the increased fringe benefits contributions do, in fact, diminish his take-home salary. We reject this interpretation, which conflates salary with take-home pay. Clearly, a county board cannot set a precise take-home pay for elected officials at any time, much less in advance of knowing who will be elected to the position. Various deductions are beyond the County’s control, some of which are entirely dependent on the elected official’s personal situation, including for example, family size, voluntary retirement contributions, and state and federal tax withholding choices. The plain meaning of salary is fixed compensation for a set duration of time, not take-home pay. …

“Section 40.05 was amended as part of a controversial budget repair bill intended to reduce costs for the state and local governments.  Moreover, if the legislature had intended to alter the ordinary meaning of salary in WIS. STAT. § 59.22 as part of the budget repair bill, it would have done so by expressly amending that statute.”

Reversed and remanded. Recommended for publication in the official reports.

2012AP1796 Cramer v. Lokken v. Eau Claire County

Dist III, Eau Claire County, Cray, J., Hoover, P.J.

Attorneys: For Appellant: Pepelnjak, Anna M., Milwaukee; Billings, Ryan M., Milwaukee; For Respondent: Hertel, Harry R., Eau Claire; Harless, Sarah Mae, Eau Claire


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