Taking a hard look at salaries

The Marion County Commission discussed a new pay plan at its meeting Tuesday, and because no action is being taken, I hope commissioners consider the pros and cons thoroughly before taking action to approve this plan.

A glaring problem with the methodology of using pay plans, whether it’s with McGrath Consulting Group Inc., or any of the others, is that most public sector salary studies don’t take into account comparisons with similar private sector jobs in the county.

For example, a janitor working for the county might make $11 an hour compared to a janitor working in the private sector making $10. In addition, the janitor who is a Marion County employee probably has benefits that far exceed the janitor in a private job.

In Marion County, using the janitor as the example, while he/she might make $11 an hour, the benefits aren’t included. Breaking it down into an hourly rate, this same $11 an hour employee, also gets over $7 an hour for their insurance benefit and about $1.35 an hour for KPERS, a retirement fund.

In total, that county employee now makes somewhere around $20.35 an hour when the benefits are factored in. And, most private employers just can’t compete with those benefits even if they can match the hourly rate.

I’m not in favor of this methodology because it artificially inflates salaries. In other words, the pay plan will raise the salaries of Marion County employees comparable to another county. However, this doesn’t compare apples to apples with respect to benefits. It is my opinion, but I think Marion County provides excellent benefits to its employees.

With the pay plan data from Marion County, it then justifies a higher salary in another county. Then that county is used the next time around to justify a higher salary in their county, and on it goes.

In addition to insurance and KPERS benefits, these pay plans also don’t take into account other perks that private employees don’t have, i.e., vacation days, paid holidays and accrued sick leave and more.

The process isn’t limited to only counties either. This same technique is used by school superintendents justifying why they might need a raise because another district pays more.

Our commissioners have said that if taxpayers don’t incorporate the pay plan or if we “freeze” salaries for say a minimum of three years, other than cost of living raises, the county employees will quit. I would venture to say that none of these employees will quit.

The reason they won’t quit is because there are NO jobs in our county that offer the salary and range of benefits they have now. In actuality, I doubt there are many jobs that come close to Marion County salaries even in neighboring counties with much higher valuations.

Even if the county freezes the pay, our county employees are not having to work without benefit of pay raises.

County employees received a cost of living raise (2 percent in 2018) at a cost to the taxpayer of $25,000. They also receive the same mileage reimbursement as the federal government, which recently increased to 58-cents a mile. Other raises are given after six months for new employees, annually, and some for doing exemplary work, which is done using the current plan in place.

Another factor is that everyone in Marion County is competing in the same labor market. If our commissioners are trying to solve morale problems by throwing money at their employees instead of establishing consistent policies and procedures from the leadership—all employers and employees could be placed in a tenuous position.

So why do we need yet another pay plan? So far, this new pay plan study has cost the taxpayer $18,000, and possibly another $9,000 to write up job descriptions. And, all of this was done on the heels of the county increasing the single Blue Cross Blue Shield policy to $35-$40 for some employees.

The increase was in April 2018, and, case in point, some employees threatened to quit if the commission took this action. To date, I know of no employee who quit based on this increase, which was done in fairness to family insurance plans and the higher premium percentages.

The county is also facing some major problems in 2019 that could threaten to “break the bank.” The biggest issue is roads and getting them back in some semblance of rock rather than mud. This would mean the taxpayers having to shell out literally millions in order to accomplish that goal.

We are also looking at hiring a county engineer to put a plan together for these devastated roads, costing $90,000-plus. Renovating the transfer station is going to cost about $1.4 million, which was needed to be fixed years ago, and insurance premiums, if the county refuses to change the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, could also cost the taxpayer an additional 8-10 percent more. One other recent problem with the current transfer station has to do with fuel in the soil, and the cost of cleaning it up. That number is still an unknown.

Also looming, is that many taxpayers fed up with roads or other decisions, are continuing to pay taxes under protest, and the commissioners have got to be careful with their spending or more producers will be stepping forward.

I would also like the commissioners to ask themselves a question based on what Mayor Tom Brown of McPherson recently said, which was: “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician makes decisions based on the next election…the statesman makes decisions based on the next generations.”

Are our commissioners politicians or statesmen? By putting a new pay plan in place right now without looking at changing any other line items in the budget, could devastate taxpayers. We need to let our commissioners know what we think.

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