Commissioners say salary hikes might upset some

September 18, 2004|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Two Washington County Commissioners said pay increases approved last week for the Engineering Department that ranged from $2,600 to $14,100 per year will create problems among county employees because none of the county's other departments received raises.

"All that did was just create animosity among all other county employees," County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said in an interview on Wednesday. "I think we just created a monster here."

The commissioners narrowly approved the pay increases by a 3-2 vote Tuesday, after Human Resources Director Dave Hankinson and Chief Engineer Terry McGee pitched the idea. The pay hikes will take effect Sept. 27 and will cost the county an additional $76,517 per year.


The raises went to 13 employees of the approximately 20-person Engineering Department. Employees who didn't receive raises either had their salaries adjusted previously or were making appropriate pay for the job, McGee said.

Hankinson and McGee said the department has had a hard time attracting and keeping qualified engineers because they're being lured away by higher salaries offered by private companies or other counties.

The Engineering Department has lost 20 employees - including engineers and nonengineers - since January 2000, according to information included with Hankinson and McGee's proposal.

One half of the department's employees have less than three years of experience with the department, the information states.

But according to a list of the 20 employees who have left since 2000, just nine have left in the past four years to take jobs outside Washington County for higher pay.

Three of the 20 resigned for personal reasons, two retired and four transferred to other county departments. One employee died and another returned after being gone a few months.

McGee, however, said in an interview Thursday that 13 employees have left the department since 2000 because of salary issues. He said he counts the four employees who transferred to other Washington County departments as part of the salary-related turnover because they were offered more money by those departments.

McGee was not one of the employees who received a raise Tuesday.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps approved the raises, which range from 6.1 percent to 33.3 percent.

Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson voted against the raises.

Nipps said the Washington County Board of Education faced similar salary problems when she was on the School Board. She said the School Board didn't give its employees adequate pay raises and "we got what we paid for."

Wivell said Wednesday he thought raises of 4 percent to 6 percent would be more appropriate than those that were approved and opposed handing out raises to one department over the others.

When asked whether other departments have asked for raises, he said, "I'm sure they will be now."

Munson agreed Wednesday that the Engineering Department raises would spark controversy with other county employees. He said he opposed the raises because most county employees received raises in January as a result of recommendations contained in a salary study, which cost the county $61,530. He said employees also received raises in July, which is when employees typically receive annual raises.

Munson told the commissioners Tuesday that he thought county employees already receive adequate pay and that there is turnover in any field.

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