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Pay increase would keep, attract workers

February 27, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A proposed 8 percent pay hike for all Washington County government employees would result in an average raise of $2,431 for a typical employee.

Even if that is approved, Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis said it is "very possible" he would recommend the commissioners still give another pay hike the following year.

For the county's highest paid employees the raise on the table now would increase each of their salaries more than $6,000. County Attorney Richard Douglas and Administrator Rodney Shoop would make $88,929 and $88,243, respectively, - up from their present $82,342 and $81,656 pay.

The salary of the lowest paid employee would increase $1,200 - from $15,003 to $16,203.

The average employee's salary would increase from $30,388 to $32,819 a year under the proposal, which would cost a total of $2 million a year, Davis said. About $1.5 million of that cost is salaries and the rest is related expenses, he said.

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The county needs to increase the salaries to keep and attract employees, he said. It has 611 full-time employees and 371 part-time employees.

Davis said other counties are not making pay raises this large this year and the recommendation is his largest in 17 years that he's been director.

But, he said, the county has been making 4 percent increases in past years, while others are doing 5 or 6 percent. "We want to right that ship," he said.

Comparing pay increases from county to county is complicated because, unlike some counties, Washington County no longer gives step increases.

During the last 10 years, the largest annual salary increase that Allegany County government has given its employees is five percent, said Human Resources Director Kathy Snyder.

Frederick County government gave its employees a 6 percent raise in 1999, a 4 percent raise in 1998, and a 3 percent raise in 1997.

Davis proposed the pay raise during a Feb. 18 meeting with the County Commissioners. They are scheduled to make a decision within 60 days.

Washington County government has 593 full-time employees. Of them, 230 have been on board fewer than 5 years and 372 fewer than 10 years, Davis said.

He said the county needs to stay competitive, increasing its salaries as other counties increase theirs. "It's a vicious circle," he said.

The amount of turnover in the county government's workforce has increased from 65 jobs in fiscal 1995 to 85 in 1996, 101 in 1997 and 143 in 1998, he said. That includes 16 retirements in 1996, 14 in 1997 and 1998. It also includes 13 transfers in 1996, 25 transfers in 1997 and 28 in 1998.

That is an overall turnover rate of 10 percent in 1996, 11.5 percent in 1997 and 14.8 percent in 1998. While the turnover rate for full-time employees has increased from 11.1 to 14.3 percent, for part-time workers it increased from 7 percent to 15.6. The turnover rate does not include workers hired for recreation programs.

This comes while full-time employment has remained fairly steady: 594 employees in 1996, 592 in 1997 and 593 in 1998.

Of the turnover, 20.2 percent was in the Sheriff's Department, 19.6 percent in the Roads department and 16.1 percent in the Water and Sewer department.

Many of the employees are leaving for higher salaries with other governments, said Water and Sewer Director Gregory Murray.

As the county trains its employees, they become more attractive to other governments who sometimes hire them away with higher salaries, Murray said.

Sheriff Charles Mades said that as many as seven employees are rumored to be presently considering leaving Washington County for higher paying jobs with other police agencies.

About 99 people have left the Sheriff's Department in the last 10 years and a majority of them went to other police agencies, Mades said.

A deputy working for Washington County makes between $23,808 and $38,093. That salary range would increase to $25,713 to $41,140 if the pay hike is passed.

Frederick County pays its deputies between $30,403 and $40,756. Allegany County pays between $23,243 to $32,540.

State police troopers doing essentially the same job are paid between $33,476 and $47,160, Davis said. Police officers with the city of Hagerstown are paid $24,147 to $39,165.

The county has given a total of about 30 percent in pay hikes since 1990, not including the proposed 8 percent.

According to statistics provided by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the average weekly wage of Washington County residents was $492 in the second quarter of 1998, $469 in 1996 and $398 in 1990.

That is a five percent pay increase between 1996 and 1998 and about 25 percent between 1990 and 1998.

The inflation rate rose 5.2 percent in 1990, 5.7 in 1991, 2.6 in 1992, 3.3 in 1993, 2.5 in 1994, 2.8 in 1995, 2.7 in 1996, 3 in 1997, 1.6 in 1998 and 1.7 in the year ending January 1999, according to an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics

As part of his proposal, Davis is suggesting the county reduce some employee benefits. For example, the county can save the cost of paying employees for about 1,830 days off if it reduces the number of annual sick days from 18 to 15, as he is proposing.

His concern is that the commissioners will cut benefits and not increase the salary, he said. In essence, that would result in a pay cut for some employees, he said.

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