Pay scale leads to cuts, ‘hard feelings’

Staff writer

Department heads appear to have kept their promise not to have busted their budgets by shoehorning in pay raises averaging 8.7 percent for 56 county employees.

However, accommodating the raises, awarded in response to a study of wages paid for similar positions in other counties, appears to be posing some difficulties.

“We’ve got this new pay scale going on, and what did you do but you cut services right here in this first department,” Commissioner Randy Dallke told road and bridge superintendent Randy Crawford during the first of a series of budget reviews last week.

Dallke questioned how Crawford proposed reducing spending on such things as gravel for roadways.

“We had to go a little lower on that,” Crawford conceded, “to compensate for the salaries.”

The road and bridges budget, though proposed to stay the same as this year, has to absorb almost $100,000 in costs incurred by raising pay levels to standards reported in the study.

Later in budget deliberations, Clerk Tina Spencer raised another issue, telling commissioners the raises were “creating some hard feelings” among employees not covered by the adjustments.

“There’s quite a bit of that going around,” she said.

Dallke objected.

“If the study comes back saying the current pay is appropriate, how do you justify more?” he asked.

Spencer countered that some employees had worked for the county “for more than 17 years” and hadn’t received regular raises.

Commission Chairman Roger Fleming responded: “I’ve been looking around at private enterprise in the county, and we are very fair to our employees. Go and look and see what you find. Do some research yourselves and see what you can find in the way of similar jobs in the private sector in Marion County and what they offer in pay and benefits.”

Commissioners said they would consider sending a letter to employees explaining the raises, which were awarded only to employees who were deemed underpaid.

Initial plans for next year do not include across-the-board or cost-of-living raises, though the possibility of such raises has not been ruled out.

Nor have the commissioners considered raises, estimated to cost a total of $61,964 a year, recommended for elected officials by the study, even though raises for some of those positions have not been provided in recent years.

“We’ve done bonuses instead,” Dallke said.

Spencer replied: “The only bad downside is that you get behind your peers.”

County Attorney Susan Robson told commissioners she didn’t want a pay raise.

“If you’re going to offer one, I’m fine without it,” she said. “I’d rather look after my people than me.”

One thing she said she would like is a regular assistant who could step in when she is vacationing or ill or has a conflict of interest.

She currently is hiring different attorneys each time such a situation arises. In the past, she said, Keith Collett, now district magistrate judge in Geary County, did most such work.

“And half the time he forgot to bill us,” Robson said.

If she does get an assistant, she would like to equip him or her with a county laptop computer and software.

Spencer told commissioners they also might consider buying a new tablet computer for whoever replaces Fleming, who is stepping down after this year.

It was unclear what would become of the tablet currently issued to Fleming. Each commissioner has a county-supplied tablet and laptop.

Also on the replacement list for most county departments are computers running Windows XP, the 12-year-old operating system that manufacturer Microsoft officially stopped supporting earlier this year.

The only significant challenge to proposed budgeting in Thursday’s seven-hour budget work session came when the extension department presented its request for $139,464 — a 4.27 percent increase that included a 1.5 percent salary increase.

“Since I’ve been sitting here 10 years, we’ve not touched your department one time,” Dallke told agent Rickey Roberts.

Dallke then questioned whether a full-time secretary position, currently filled by Doris Winkler, might be converted to part-time.

While Roberts characterized his office as “a pretty bare operation,” Dallke responded: “I think we can do better, and that’s why I’m asking.”

Roberts expressed doubt and was supported by extension board chairman Brad Vanocker, whose elected group came up with the budget Roberts presented.

Roberts noted that Winkler, nearing retirement, is “the only one in the whole courthouse who gets no benefits.”

“I can’t imagine getting our work done if we had to do it with a part-time position,” he said. “If she retires, I’m afraid we won’t get a single applicant at 18½ hours with no benefits.”

Dallke countered: “I cannot see it from the outside looking in.” Fleming added: “It’s hard to make a decision to cut because you’re always impacting some person out there.”

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