One of the agenda items for this week’s regular monthly meeting of the County Administration Committee is a discussion of the creation of a “Living Wage” ordinance that would affect any company that does business under contract with St. Croix County.  The proposal to begin discussions on a Living Wage ordinance was originally made by Supervisor Roy Sjoberg (District 5 – City of Hudson Wards 1, 6, 9, 10) at the January regular meeting of the County Board. This proposal was made at the same time as he proposed beginning discussions of the County adopting “sanctuary” status to protect illegal immigrants here in St. Croix County.

Supervisor Sjoberg cited a similar ordinance passed in Eau Claire County which went into effect on January 01, 2017 as a model for St. Croix County to follow.  At Sjoberg’s request, County Administrator Patrick Thompson has included the discussion of this ordinance as an agenda item in this month’s Administration Committee meeting.

So what, exactly, is a “Living Wage”, and how would that impact tax payers and businesses in the County?

The concept of a “living wage”, unlike a statutory minimum wage, which specifies the absolute minimum an employer is allowed to pay an employee, refers to the minimum amount of money an individual needs to earn that will afford them a complete basic lifestyle in the community.  Simply stated, living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs, which generally includes food, shelter, utilities, transportation, health care, and minimal recreation.

The exact definition of a “living wage” varies widely, depending on the specific geographic area or community that is being referred to.  For example, a “living wage” in Malibu California would be significantly different than in urban Detroit.  For the purposes of the proposed ordinance, the definition for the living wage as specified in the Eau Claire County example ordinance is based on the HHS poverty level threshold for a family of four, plus an annually increasing percentage (See previous post for additional details).  The bottom line result is a minimum hourly rate that is $11.83 for 2017, and increased annually to $13.60 in 2021.

The County does not have the authority to regulate how much businesses can pay their employees, but it can dictate the terms of contracts it enters into with private companies.  Under the proposed ordinance, with some exceptions, any businesses who do not pay their employees at least the above amount would be barred from obtaining contracts with St. Croix County.  Based on the example ordinance, these restrictions would also apply to any subcontractors used by the contracting company as well.

The reason cited by Supervisor Sjoberg for why this ordinance is needed is to solve the apparently large problem we have here in the County where employees of County contractors are making so little money that they need to rely on other financial support provided by County social service programs, which is “disrespectful of the work ethic we want to promote”.

No evidence has been presented so far that this scenario actually exists in the County,  or that enacting this legislation would do anything other than increases costs to the tax payer associated with future County contracts.  It would, however, be one more incremental expansion of local government control over private industry by essentially bullying businesses into meeting the new proposed requirements.

Now is the time to contact the members of the Administration Committee, and voice your concerns with this proposal.  They will be meeting on Wednesday, May 17 at 5:00pm.

Contact info for the Administration Committee members can be found below, or on the St. Croix County web site.

View the example ordinance enacted in Eau Claire County (PDF)

Roy Sjoberg
1108 Vine Street
Hudson, WI 54016

Ken Witt
Administration Operations Manager
P : 715-381-4302
E :

Jill Ann Berke
246 Carlson Lane
River Falls, WI 54022

Shaela Leibfried
1507 Mallard Avenue
Baldwin, WI 54002

Ron Kiesler
1359 Parkview Drive
New Richmond, WI 54017