County wage adjustment would be costly

5/5/2014

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

A recently completed compensation and job classification study indicated Finney County needs to make close to $355,000 in salary adjustments to bring employee wages to a more competitive level with other cities and counties in the state.

On Monday, the Finney County Commission listened to a report from The Austin Peters Group, an Overland Park-based consultant that conducted the wage study, and also revised county job descriptions.

The county hired The Austin Peters Group last November to do the study at a cost of $53,000.

The county hadn't done a wage study or updated job descriptions since 1995. The consultant compared the county's pay scale to other cities, counties and state agencies in the state, and also looked at private sector data.

The study was designed to help the county attract and retain employees. In the past, county departments have had difficulty with recruitment and retention partly due to entry level pay rates that weren't up to applicants' expectations.

The firm started the study in January. The process included meetings with employees, department heads and elected officials, rewriting job descriptions to make them more consistent, evaluation and classifying positions into pay grades, and determining market adjustments that needed to be made based on information from other counties, cities and the private sector.

"What we found ... was that we needed to bring the bottoms of all the ranges up. I think it had been quite some time before starting wages had been changed," Rebecca Crowder, president of The Austin Peters Group, said.

The county has about 363 employees. Currently, the starting pay in several departments is under $10 per hour. The consultant recommended adjusting the base ranges of the pay scale to meet the market at the 60th percentile.

"What that means is we want four employers out of 10 to pay more than you, and six employers out of 10 to pay less. We want you to be above the middle of the group at the 60th percentile rank, and that is based on trying to minimize turnover, trying to have your work force stay and retain them," Crowder said.

Cities and counties used as benchmarks for the study included Barton, Butler, Cowley, Douglas, Ellis, Ford, Franklin, Geary, Harvey, Leavenworth, Lyon, McPherson, Miami, Montgomery, Reno, Riley, Saline, and Seward counties, and Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal and Ulysses. The consultant also looked at private sector wage data and data from the State of Kansas.

The financial impact to move 75 employees up to the base level of the pay scale is $199,527. In addition, the study proposes an adjustment of $154,649, which would impact 163 employees, to ease pay compression. Without an adjustment, existing employees would be paid around the same level as a new hire at the base level. To avoid that, slight adjustments will be made to move existing employees up in their ranges.

Crowder said no employees would receive a pay reduction, but some employees are frozen at the top of some ranges.

Study results will be distributed to county employees for review and the opportunity to contact the consultant to ask questions about placement within the scale.

"That's a normal part of our process. We want to make sure employees feel like they've been treated fairly, so if there's something we need to adjust in our final document, we'd like to be able to do that for you," Crowder said.

Commissioner Larry Jones asked what, if any, weight was given to entities closer to Finney County, noting the inclusion of Douglas County in particular.

Crowder indicated that while Douglas has a much bigger population, it's county government is similar in size to Finney County's number of employees. Given the large number included in the benchmark group, the study did not factor cost of living into the wage study.

"I suspect if we did that the there would be a very tiny adjustment to the data because they're one of about 25 in the group," she said. "You two are comparable in employee size, but of course not in cost of living."

While adjustments are needed for salary, the county is performing better than the benchmark group in its health insurance benefits package. Crowder said the county's health insurance, on average, is 89-cents per hour better than the benchmark group.

"Employees should hear that and know they're way above the rest of the group," Crowder said.

Another recommendation, which the commission did not act on yet, called for budgeting another 2.4 percent for 2015 to adjust for cost of living pay next year and provide merit increases.

Commissioner Dave Jones said the commission could take a look at those areas later, depending on what the county's valuation and mill levy numbers look like later this summer.

"I'd suggest it's more important to meet the requirements of the pay study, get people in the right pay range and so on, than it is at this point to consider a 1 percent cost of living, or whatever it is. We can pretty easily figure that in at budget time," Jones said.

The commission voted to accept the study, and to use the base and compression adjustments in preparing department budgets.

"That's about a $355,000 budget hit," Commissioner Larry Jones said.

Using last year's valuation numbers, the wage adjustment would cost a bit more than two-thirds of a mill. Last year, one mill of valuation equated to $497,000.

In other business Monday:

* Commissioners heard requests for county funds from the Finney County Committee on Aging, the Finney County Conservation District and Russell Child Development Center, all non-departmental outside agencies.

Commissioner Roman Halbur cautioned those seeking funding that the county is not likely to see an increase in valuation this year and probably won't be increasing outside budgets much, if at all.

"If we would put any kind of an increase in any of your budgets over what they were last year, we're either going to have to accomplish it by increasing the mill levy or by taking it from somebody else's budget," Halbur said. "I don't want to disillusion you that you're going to get what you ask for here today. I think it's only fair that you know where we're at heading into this. If anybody wants to question me on that, go ahead."

The Committee on Aging, which oversees the Senior Center of Finney County and other programs, requested $385,000 for next year, a $55,000 increase.

Director Barbara Jensen said she understood the county's struggles.

"Nevertheless, we are going to ask for an increase. You're not going to give it unless we ask, so I'm here to ask," she said.

Jensen said the increase would help the agency offer better pay for bus drivers. Currently, the agency has trouble competing with what the school district can offer in salary and benefits. The increase also would allow the senior center to offer more activities by being open past 5 p.m.

The Conservation District requested $29,000, a $4,000 increase that mainly would be used to update equipment.

Russell Child Development Center asked for $166,000 from the county next year, an increase of $71,000.

Lindsay Byrnes, an RCDC board member, said RCDC serves 480 children in 13 counties of southwest Kansas. Of that, 62 percent live in Finney County. She said the funding request is proportional to the amount of service provided to the county. RCDC also receives federal and state funding.

* Commissioners voted 4-1 to allow fireworks in the county for the Fourth of July.

Allen Shelton, Garden City Fire Department chief, said he's received inquiries from fireworks vendors asking whether the county is going to allow fireworks this year. Shelton said there were 14 fireworks stands operating in the county last year, and during the period from June 27 through July 5, there were 20 calls related to fireworks, with no monetary loss.

"We have had drought the last few years. Last year we didn't have any significant problems with fireworks, so I'll leave it up to you as to what you'd like to do," Shelton said.

Shelton said even with the drought, the department has responded to few wild land or grass fires. Even with the recent windy conditions, there have not been any large fires, he said.

Halbur voted against allowing fireworks.

"We're going into this year a lot drier than last year. As you know, I've always been opposed to having people or firemen get hurt," Halbur said.

Shelton will also go to the Garden City Commission in the next few weeks regarding whether to allow fireworks to be shot within the city limits.

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