The new structure, which will go into effect July 1, 2008, will provide yearly 3.5 percent increases in addition to cost-of-living adjustments. The commissioners can change the amounts of those increases every year during budget season and can decide not to give cost-of-living adjustments. Managers can also withhold step increases from employees who get low scores on performance evaluations.
Most commissioners applauded the new structure Tuesday, saying it improved a broken system.
"The step process lets employees see where they can go and what they can expect in the future," Commissioner Terry L. Baker said.
Kercheval: The problem is not the system
Only Commissioner James F. Kercheval voted against the new system, saying he could not vote for a salary structure that does not pay for performance.
"I don't see how this new structure fixes any of the evaluation problems we have. The problem is not the system, but how management works within it," Kercheval said.
County employees are currently evaluated under a five-point system and given a percentage of the year's approved increase based on their evaluation. For example, if the commissioners approve a 3 percent salary increase and an employee scores five out of five on his or her evaluation, that employee will get a 3.25 percent pay raise.
One-time bonuses offered for outstanding performance
The problem, many have said, is that managers routinely give fives, which ideally should be reserved for only a few county employees every year.
The new system would largely fix that problem by offering one-time bonuses instead of base-pay increases for outstanding performance.
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore spoke in favor of one-time bonuses as opposed to base-pay increases at Tuesday's meeting. The sheriff's department has used the step-increase system for the past year.
Washington County Sheriff supports step system
"It has returned to me the opportunity to do true work-performance evaluations," Mullendore said.
He said he withheld step increases from two of his employees last year.
Washington County Emergency Services Director John A. Latimer IV, who was on the salary review committee, said the commissioners must commit to cost-of-living adjustments to make the structure work.
A similar step system that was used by the county in the early 1990s failed, Latimer said, because the county rarely gave cost-of-living adjustments.
"If you don't give cost-of-living, you're not going to stay competitive with other counties, and the system will not work," Latimer said.
The county will adopt the new system by assigning a step to all current employees based on their salary. In July, all employees will be moved up one step.