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Possible raise on hold for county employees

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By Brian Slattery

BOLIVIA—Commissioner Marty Cooke wants to pump 5 percent more money into Brunswick County employees’ salaries. He brought it up at the Dec. 17 commissioner meeting, but other commissioners weren’t on board.

Instead the board will wait for results of a salary study commissioned in July.

The study is a review of compensation, job classifications, performance evaluations and benefits for all county employees. Evergreen Solutions was selected from 11 contractors to perform the survey.

Cooke sent an email to staff and commissioners outlining his desire to increase staff salaries 5 percent to bring the pay scale back in line with cost of living adjustments the county would have made if raises weren’t frozen in 2008.

“In many respects it’s not an increase… but an adjustment, bringing salaries in line with the amount of money they’ve lost in the past four or five years, due to inflationary increases due to food, fuel, electricity, insurance and other expenses,” Cooke wrote.

Cooke said employees’ salaries lost more than 8 percent of buying power through inflation.

Cooke added that last year the board gave employees a $1,000 bonus at Christmas, but taxes and fees taken out left employees with about $600 to take home.

“The employees lost 40 percent of what we intended them to have,” Cooke wrote.

The previous year the board approved a 2 percent salary increase, but it was tied to merit, meaning each employee was evaluated. If some employees didn’t hit an average ranking, they received less than the 2 percent raise.

Cooke said these examples show county employees didn’t receive what the board intended.

Cooke said a 5 percent raise is possible without hurting the county fund balance or requiring raised taxes.

He stipulated the raises should not be tied to evaluations, but should be implemented across the board—except for new hires within the past year and employees making more than $100,000 a year.

At Monday’s meeting, chairman Phil Norris asked what ramifications a 5 percent increase would have on county finances.

Finance director Ann Hardy said a 5 percent raise for all employees would cost $2.5 million a year.

“Every percentage increase is right at $500,000,” Hardy said.

She added if the raise went in place Jan. 1, 2013, for the second half of the fiscal year it would cost $1.25 million.

Hardy agreed with Cooke’s assessment that the money was available in the fund balance and a tax increase would not be needed.

Commissioner Frank Williams asked how the proposed increase corresponds with the salary study.

County manager Marty Lawing said they anticipate the results and recommendations will be presented in early January.

“It could be in your possession to vote on by Jan. 22,” Lawing said.

Williams pumped the brakes on the raise discussion.

“As a new board member, I’m not comfortable deciding this tonight,” he said.

Williams then gave assurances to any employees in the room that he wasn’t against the possibility of a pay raise.

“We want to take care of you. We want to do it right,” Williams said.

Commissioner Pat Sykes agreed an adjustment in employee pay was needed, but she didn’t want to make a decision Monday that would fly in the face of the salary study recommendations if they will be ready in three weeks.

“You will not be forgotten. It will just take a couple months or three,” she said.

Williams made a motion to table the discussion until the next county meeting.

The first scheduled board meeting, Jan.7, 2013, was canceled. The next meeting is set for Jan. 22, 2013.

Board members voted 4-1 to table the pay raise, with Cooke opposing the delay.

“Since we didn’t proceed on the 5 percent raise, should we discuss a bonus for Christmas as we have done before?” Cooke asked.

The board did not take up the Christmas bonus discussion but instead set a date to hear the results of the salary study.

Commissioners voted unanimously to continue the meeting until 3p.m. Jan. 8 for the salary study.

“I would plan for two to three hours. There is a lot if information,” Lawing said.

 

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.