Claremore Daily Progress

September 18, 2013

Pay raises for county employees get serious discussion

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — Rogers County commissioners are evaluating the possibility of employee pay increases, despite commissioner Dan DeLozier’s questions about the long-term impact on county finances.

The cost-of-living raises would be about $200 a month for each employee at a  projected cost of about $850,000 which would be paid from use tax collections and T-Highway funding, according to CPA Bill Turner.

“It is taking use tax money and funding it as new money. So next year, where will we get the money to fund these raises? It is the same thing I told them [Mike Helm and Kirt Thacker] last year with using carry over funds,” DeLozier said. “I am for rewarding my employees, but when we are using taxpayer dollars it is hard to give raises.”

Commissioner Helm asked the board Monday to consider paying for a cost-of-living raise for all employees from excess use tax funds.

Rogers County employees have not received a cost-of-living pay increase in about five years, according to commissioner Thacker.

“My biggest concern is that if we continue to spend money this way, we will continue to have this problem year after year,” DeLozier said. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

In contrast to Thacker’s remarks, some employees have received raises during the past few years, including about 15 employees in 2012.

Several more employees have already received pay increases in 2013, including longevity pay increases and performance or training-based raises.

Pay increases have not been consistent from one department to another, and now employees are questioning the system.

The county’s Information Technology Director Brett Williston asked the commissioners Monday to give across the board raises this year, then look at a merit-based system.

The dialog has been focused on a raise for every employee, but more questions about past determinations has left many employees wondering about the system.

For example, since 2010 the commissioner’s secretary recieved two pay increases totaling about $5,000.

Other positions have been filled at a higher salary than previous employees, including emergency management, which now pays the department head approximately $4,000 more annually.

Considering employee concerns, commissioners are working to balance the system and employee needs versus wants.

Rogers County employees are paid at the top of the weekly pay scale in relationship to other counties in Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On average, Rogers County employees make about $778 weekly, about $50 below Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, according to the data.

Employees receive county paid health insurance and state retirement benefits.

Employee benefit packages include three weeks of personal leave and a minimum of three weeks vacation.

Thoe benefits were increased last year in lieu of pay increases, although several employees received both, despite the board’s decision to forgo pay increases across the board.

Thacker and Helm voted to increase paid time off for employees. DeLozier opposed the expansion of paid time off.

“The reason we looked to change this is because they [employees] are not paid at the top of the pay ranges. We don’t have the option to pay more, so you give more time off,” Human Resource Director Jenny Bentley told the board last year.

Commissioner DeLozier opposed the changes then and still questions the county’s ability to increase pay with such a tight budget.