County employees can’t have it both ways

The Marion County Commission is looking at a pay plan for employees, but before making any decisions, it would be in the best interest of the taxpayer to study this compensation package closely. And, as taxpayers, it would be in everyone’s best interest to ask questions.

In my opinion, there are some very nice people who are county employees, some that go out of their way to be disagreeable, some with too much time on their hands, but overall, I don’t think there are any working their fingers to the bone.

I think one of the reasons prompting this pay plan review was when the commission, by a majority, voted for a $35 single insurance increase. At that same meeting, bids went out to hire a group to look at the county’s salaries.

When the insurance increase was approved, at least one commissioner voiced concern that the increase would translate to good employees resigning. But, to my knowledge, that didn’t happen. Employees may have moved on to other locations, but none left because of the insurance.

In mid-April, McGrath Human Resources Group accepted the job of reviewing the county’s pay structure at a cost of $18,000. To date, this company has met with commissioners twice. I had two concerns with those meetings. The first was this outside firm asking the commissioners what their “level of commitment” would be.

Almost like a strong-arm tactic, the idea was that if the commissioners weren’t serious about putting the new schedule in line with the market (whatever market that was) then essentially there was no need to continue.

When it comes to pay plans and being in line with the “market,” that’s a difficult concept. There are so many variables with the first being what the taxpayer of Marion County can bear. After that, what type of market findings were specifically used? Are we talking about comparing our county to another county, private sector jobs, benefit packages?

But, nonetheless, McGrath representatives said at a meeting in mid-July that they had a methodology. The current system was analyzed, they compared market findings to Marion County wages and reviewed employee demographics for retention and/or turnover.

In addition, employees filled out a 15-page questionnaire. Also, did McGrath representatives have one-on-one interviews with employees? If so, what could employees possibly add to the already daunting task of answering pages of questions, and after the company did all their analyzing, comparing, and findings.

In September, two McGrath representatives, the chief executive officer and senior consultant, returned. This time, they showed a proposed salary schedule structure, but without job titles, and also without the total compensation package to include the value of insurance, retirement plan, vacation, holidays and work schedules.

At a minimum, the recommendation by McGrath officials would be a $200,000 increase from 2019-2022 in order to get everyone closer to where they should be in the current market. According to McGrath officials, the current market is identified as the sixth step on the pay scale, which is $26,400 annually or $12.69 hourly.

The county commissioners raised taxes in 2016 by nearly 5 mills and another 1.5 mills in 2017. To rubber stamp this salary structure would only further burden all taxpayers.

It would be interesting to know where the numbers came from to support the current market as being $12.69 in the private sector when employees I spoke with at some retail stores in Marion County didn’t make close to that amount, and who also had no benefits.

Once the McGrath company completes its compensation plan, I think it would be in the best interest of all taxpayers to “freeze” salaries for at least three years as a fiscally sustainable course. With so many other issues needing attention, it would give the commission time to review McGrath’s findings.

It would also allow the commission time to look at the plan. In other words, is the plan structured to result in achievement of desired actions and behaviors of the employees that are consistent for the mission statement of the county’s leadership goals.

One particular question (or goal) that comes to mind is if the (McGrath) plan is fair and consistent to all employees based on their level of contribution to the organization and/or the customer (taxpayer)?

It might also be worth mentioning that when people join the public sector, they do so for the stability, and knowing that no matter how bad the wheat crops are or if the country goes into a recession, they have the security of long tenure. County employees must also realize that with that security, which is better than private industry, requires a sacrifice of direct financial compensation.

In general, federal, state, city and county employees also are in stable environments with limited change and limited exposure to risk. It’s what makes the job appealing to many, and why most, if not all, would resign in the event of a temporary salary freeze.

It’s not that one is better than the other, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

One last note to taxpayers. Watch for headlines regarding “pay plans” and let your voices be known to your commissioner. These are your tax dollars paying our civil servants.

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