County managers get pay raise

December 17, 2008
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Despite facing a deficit in the upcoming general fund next year and a 2009 state economy that offers little in the way of bright spots, Kent County Commissioners agreed last week to award department managers and supervisors an average wage hike of 3 percent.

"It's the most volatile situation I've seen in my career," said Don Clack, county human resources director, of the relationship between salaries and economic conditions.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said the net cost increase in salary and benefits for roughly 300 non-unionized employees would total $472,000 next year, a figure the county reached after making changes to its health and dental plan that produced $160,000 in savings for 2009. The lowest-paid, highest-performing employees will get the biggest increases, while the highest paid will get the lowest hikes.

"It's a total of three percent," said Commissioner David Morren.

The request for a 3 percent increase came after Clack's office evaluated pay levels for comparable public-sector organizations and positions from such sources as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mercer, and Watson Wyatt Data Services, among others. All those sources posted average increases that topped 3 percent, with a few reaching 4 percent.

Still, some county commissioners questioned the wisdom of raising wages now.

Commissioner Paul Mayhue noted that the general fund for next year is facing a nearly $2 million deficit and asked how the county could justify an increase when it may have to layoff workers in the future.

Clack said the pay raise was necessary for the county to remain competitive with the public and private sectors for management and supervisory talent. But Commissioner Harold Mast didn't agree, "I don't buy the argument that public employees are under paid."

Commissioner Dean Agee, though, felt that county employees have a history of being underpaid when compared to other workers.

"This might be the last increase we may see for some time," he said.

Not everyone eligible will receive a 3 percent increase. Clack said some will get less and some will get more, as the hikes will be based on each employee's performance review. Managers and supervisors received a 3.14 percent increase last January.

The general fund has a total personnel cost of $66.7 million for workers paid through the budget. Other department budgets fund salaries for other workers. Total general-fund expenditures are expected to reach $169.7 million in 2009, while revenues to the fund are expected to be about $2 million short of expenses.

"This is a long-term business and we're making a long-term decision," said Commissioner Ted Vonk.

In addition to approving the management wage increase, commissioners ratified a three-year labor agreement with Teamsters Local 214, which represents county nurses, and a four-year contract with the Police Officers Labor Council, which represents Kent County Sheriff Department captains and lieutenants.

"I think it's fundamentally unfair to give our labor unions an increase, but not our management," said Commissioner Nadine Klein

The nurses will get pay hikes of 2 percent next month, 2.25 percent in 2010 and 2.5 percent in 2011. The three-year wage and benefits increase will cost the county $345,000 for the 44 full-time and 17 part-time employees. The total base wage with the increases comes to $2.97 million.

The 21 captains and lieutenants will receive a retroactive increase of 2 percent for this year, 2 percent next year, 2.25 percent in 2010 and 2.5 percent in 2011. The county's total additional cost for wages and benefits over the life of the contract will come to $560,000. The total base wage will reach $1.83 million.

"The focus for the last two years was on health care costs," said Clack. "And in that sense, we've been pretty successful."

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