Wage increase on county agenda

October 30, 2010
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Kent County commissioners will decide this week whether they should approve a labor agreement with another one of its bargaining units and give its members a small wage increase.

The county’s Human Resources Department has negotiated a two-year agreement with the Kent County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Association, which represents 32 of the department’s prosecutors. The pact includes pay hikes worth 1.25 percent for 2011 and 2012. The agreement also raises the attorneys’ cost for dental coverage from $2,200 to $2,300 for 2011 and increases their contribution to the pension plan by a full percent to 7.5 percent for 2012.

The total cost to the county for wages and benefits for both years comes to $255,059. Funds to cover the increase have been included in the preliminary general fund budget for 2011, but will have to be added to the 2012 budget.

The county’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee unanimously recommended last week that the commission should ratify the agreement. But the last pay increase that came before the full board ran into opposition that was stronger than usual, when five commissioners voted against it.

In September, the commission gave the county’s lowest-paid, non-unionized workers an across-the-board increase of 1.25 percent and a 0.73 percent increase to their overall payroll that will be divided among the 205 employees on a merit basis. Those workers are expected to get wage hikes that are likely to range from 1.75 percent to 3.5 percent beginning Jan. 1. The increases will cost the county more than $487,000 next year; that amount has been included in the 2011 preliminary budget.

However, Commissioner Keith Courtade wanted the individual increases limited to 2.5 percent, and Commissioner Bob Synk wanted the total cost of the raises to be offset by pay cuts to higher-paid employees. Commissioner Brandon Dillon argued that the cost increase should be covered by reducing the salaries of the county’s top-level managers.

The board rejected all three suggestions and approved the salary increase without amending the request.

A few commissioners who voted for the pay raises did so somewhat grudgingly. Commissioner Tom Antor, for example, said he saw his September vote as the last salary adjustment, and he added that the county’s commitment to freezing wages had seemingly become a “moving target.”

Back in March commissioners gave the county’s administrative staff the authority to ask all unionized and non-union employees for concessions to their wage and benefit packages for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. By August, at least three of the county’s 13 bargaining units, including its largest, agreed to give up half of their salary increases for next year. Those wage hikes initially ranged from 2 percent to 2.5 percent.

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