Contract up for review for top Kent County executive

August 29, 2010
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Kent County commissioners are all but certain to give their top executive another three years in a few weeks, while Grand Rapids city commissioners overcame their consternations and raised the pension multiplier for three of their key public safety officials last week.

The current employment agreement for County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio expires Dec. 31 and commissioners are very likely to extend that contract through the 2013 calendar year. He has served in the county’s top non-elected post since 1999, when he replaced Melinda Carlton as the county’s chief executive officer. Before being promoted, Delabbio served as Carlton’s top assistant.

The new agreement contains a reduced monthly vehicle allowance for Delabbio, a concession of $125 a month that he made voluntarily. His new monthly allowance would be $675 instead of $800. He will also lose the use of a county-provided laptop computer.

Delabbio earns $155,000 a year in his current agreement. His new salary will be determined by the county’s Management Pay Plan, which defines compensation for all non-union employees including those not in management positions. But Delabbio told the Business Journal that he is unlikely to get a salary increase, as commissioners only allowed wages to rise slightly this year for the lowest-paid employees covered under the MPP. The new contract does give Delabbio 25 days of vacation each year and a group-term life insurance policy with a total benefit of $500,000.

At the same Sept. 9 meeting, commissioners also will decide whether to give County Human Resources Director Don Clack and Delabbio the authority to hire replacements for vacated positions vital to operations. The county’s current policy calls for a 60-day waiting period to fill a key vacancy when one is created through a voluntary or an involuntary termination.

Clack said several have occurred in the court system and in law enforcement, and having to wait the required two months to recruit and hire replacements has hindered operations.

“I’ve tried to work with all the guidelines,” said Clack of the current hiring policy, “but the 60-day wait is too long.”

Commissioner Brandon Dillon suggested the board simply eliminate the 60-day rule in the near future. “But I’m not going to do anything about this now,” he said. The Legislative Committee approved both measures last week and recommended that the commission ratify Delabbio’s agreement and amend the policy.

Dillon congratulated Clack for negotiating pay-hike concessions with eight of the county’s 13 bargaining units, each of which will give up half of the increases that were scheduled to take effect next year. He also congratulated Clack for getting the units to accept the county’s new retirement-incentive program. Dillon said Clack’s work with the unions should become a model for others. Clack said union leadership was willing to work with him on both requests.

Several non-union personnel were a major topic of discussion for city commissioners last week. After initial concerns about the long-term cost to the city’s pension plan if the multiplier was raised from 2.7 to 2.8 for Police Chief Kevin Belk, Deputy Police Chief James Farris and Fire Chief Laura Knapp, city commissioners unanimously agreed to raise it last week — but only after City Manager Greg Sundstrom assured them the city’s cost wouldn’t rise. “It’s not the city that is paying for this; it is them,” he said.

Sundstrom explained that Belk and Farris will increase their pension contributions from 4.7 percent to 10.2 percent and Knapp will increase hers from 3.2 percent to 10.2 percent in order to get the additional tenth- of-a-percent multiplier raise to 2.8, a figure that was awarded by a state arbitrator. He also told commissioners that the three are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits at retirement.

“Their multiplier will not go into effect until July 1, 2012. The difference in the cost — a tenth of one percent — for a 30-year employee is 3 percent,” said Sundstrom. “The full long-term cost is more than covered by the increased contributions.”

Commissioners made pension contribution and multiplier changes to other non-represented managers, directors and administrative staff earlier this month. Those employees have until Friday to choose from three options, one of which requires them to also raise their contribution rate to 10.2 percent in order to retain the current 2.7 multiplier. Sundstrom said the city would save up to 20 percent on its general pension cost from these changes.

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