Lee County is one step away from finalizing an increase of the local minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $8.20/hour. Lee would become the fifth county in Iowa to hike the rate in the past 18 months, joining Linn, Johnson, Polk, and Wapello.
The Lee County Board voted 4-1 Tuesday morning in favor of the second reading of the minimum wage ordinance.
Supervisor Matt Pflug (D-Keokuk) said Lee County needs to take this step.
“$8.20/hour is not a living wage, but we are moving in the right direction. This is an easy decision,” said Pflug. “We see too many people struggling and we should not have that in Lee County.”
Supervisor Ron Fedler (D-West Point) cast the lone no vote. He said he supports an increase in the minimum wage, just not at the county level.
“I believe it should be a state or federal issue,” said Fedler. “The state can mandate all the cities and the counties to follow whatever the state passes. The county cannot mandate to the cities so then we end up having a divided county.”
Cities in Iowa can opt out of a county-approved minimum wage hike and return to the state level of $7.25/hour.
Fedler said he’s worried that some cities in Lee County might opt out, creating an unbalanced playing field for workers and businesses. He points to Wapello County as an example because its largest city (Ottumwa) opted out of the county-approved minimum wage hike.
Vice Chairman Don Hunold (D-Donnellson) said he received a phone call from a resident expressing that same concern. He said he would like to hear more from city leaders to find out where they stand on the increase.
Michael Bennett served on the citizens committee that recommended the increase. He said it is greatly needed given the poverty numbers in Lee County.
“We need to make things better for our fellow man,” said Bennett.
The county board will hold two meetings on March 28, the first at 9:00 a.m. at the Newberry Center in Fort Madison and the second at 1:00 p.m. at the Heritage Center in Keokuk.
Chairman Rick Larkin said the third and final vote on the minimum wage hike will occur during the Keokuk meeting.
The proposed increase comes as the Iowa Legislature is considering legislation that would negate the recent local minimum wage hikes and prevent future increases.