Wisconsin Reporter | Report shines light on government employee salary

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Dane County, Wisconsin, are featured in this story from Watchdog.org.

wisreportOctBy Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – Want to increase your salary? Join the Dane County government workforce.

Hundreds of public employees in Madison and throughout Dane County take home more than the average Wisconsin family, raking in six figure salaries and potentially more than a million dollars in future pension payouts.

Vincent Tranchida, the county medical examiner, forensic pathologist and top Dane County government wage earner, made more than $204,429 in 2012.

Eighty-three other Dane County employees each made more than $100,000 last year. Another 1,318 made more than $50,000 last year. And 520 others made more than $40,000.

“Most people think their tax dollars are going to the needy, no, it’s going to the greedy,” said Jim Tobin, president of Taxpayers United of America.

Taxpayers United of America compiled the government salary data from open records requests filed in Dane County.

Eleven lawyers representing county agencies earn more than $100,000 a year. Kesti McCredie, a toll booth attendant, made $51,791. Three other toll booth attendants made more than $40,000.

Ryan Sheahan, the county’s tobacco coalition coordinator, made $64,230.

While Tobin’s confrontational, firebrand style may be off-putting to some, he raises a good question.

“Don’t you want to know who is getting and how much they’re getting?” he asked. “That’s a big part of where your money is going.”

Joshua Wescott, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, took home $114,534 in 2012. For comparison, President Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel made $172,000 in 2009.

Wescott did not return phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter. Parisi, who was in a meeting when Wisconsin Reporter called, made $117,038.

Karin Thurlow, chief of staff for the Dane County Board of Supervisors, made $96,656 last year. Mary Beil, employed by Dane County to lobby the state Legislature for more tax dollars, was paid $91,765.

The average full-time Dane County government employee makes nearly as much as the average family in the county – about $62,000 according to Census data.

Property taxes in the county, meanwhile, have grown $115 during the past dozen years on the average Madison home for the Dane County portion of the tax bill. The proposed 2014 Dane County budget would increase property taxes another $18.39 on the average Madison home.

Wisconsin has some of the highest property tax burdens in the country. A 2011 report from the Tax Foundation found Dane County property taxes ranked 51st in the country at an average of $4,038 per household. That figure, taken from 2005-2009 data, includes city, school district and county property taxes paid.

“This is completely inflammatory and inaccurate,” Charles Hicklin, the county controller, said of the report. Hicklin ranked 23rd in county government pay with a 2012 salary of $123,780.

His beef was not with the salary data; 40 percent — or $190 million — of the county’s $476 million operating budget went to salaries and fringe benefits, he said.

Hicklin raised hackles over the pension payout projections calculated by Taxpayers United of America.

TUA took the data from top 100 salary earners in Dane County government and projected they would take home lifetime pension and Social Security payments between $1.9 million and $3.5 million.

That works out to about $91,000 to $169,000 a year, depending on salary.

To come to those numbers, TUA estimates government employees work 41 years, retire at age 65, live to age 86 and receive Social Security with 4-percent salary increases. A mitigating factor is TUA assumes no annual pension increases from growth in the Wisconsin Retirement System.

All told, Tobin’s pension numbers are exaggerated in most instances. A worker would have to spend the majority of his career in the government sector to reach the payouts Tobin projects.

“They criticize us for making estimates,” he said. “We’d rather just do it from the real data. They won’t give us the real data.”

Wisconsin is one of 17 states without a public pension sunshine law.

“While our pension estimates are a very useful tool, I encourage Madison and all Wisconsin taxpayers to demand the right to review pension payments,” he said.

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