July 22, 2019

Wage study committee recommends raises for county employees - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Wage study committee recommends raises for county employees

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Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2019 4:05 pm

Lake County Commissioners voted on Tuesday morning to move forward with implementing salary adjustments for county employees based on a wage study recently completed.

Shelli Gust, commission administrative officer, reported that the committee, which included Commissioners Dennis Slaughter and Aaron Johnson as well as Gust, had "spent a lot of hours coming up with a workable solution." She said the wage scale had not been adjusted since 2013 and was "useless for the hiring process."

In addition, because the county had no step scale increases, employee raises were limited to cost of living increases. She said the committee was recommending salary adjustments to increase retention and to attract a better pool of qualified applicants for county positions.

"It's been difficult to recruit talented new employees. Part of that is our wages," Gust said.

She said the committee would like to continue reviewing salaries annually.

The committee proposed giving all county employees a 3% cost of living raise and meeting with department heads to discuss individual adjustments for 23 county employees. The overall cost to the county is expected to be $150,000.

"If you're going to move forward with the wage increases, it's going to take most of your growth," Gust said.

Currently, the projected increase to county taxes for the next fiscal year is $172,599.73.

Slaughter pointed out that when commissioners began to look at wages three years ago, it would have cost between $30,000 and $40,000 to make county salaries competitive.

"You can see how it escalates," he said.

Slaughter indicated it would take several years to get caught up.

After approving the recommendation from the wage study committee to adjust employee salaries after meeting with department heads, the commissioners denied a request from Director of Equalization Rick Becker to give Field Appraiser Jennie Larson a raise.

Initially, Chairperson Kelli Wollmann asked Becker to work through the process that was recommended by the wage study committee. However, Becker persevered, using an argument similar to the one County Highway Superintendent Dave Fedeler had used to get a raise for one of his employees.

"I don't feel it's fair to put this back," Becker told commissioners.

He said he had a problem with highway employees getting raises when other department heads were not allowed to put raises for employees into their budgets.

"I just want what's fair. If there's some departments that can get raises for their employees, why can't I?" he asked.

Fedeler was successful in getting raises for his employees because he put them in his budget request, even though commissioners had indicated employee raises for the 2019 fiscal year were limited to the 3% cost of living increase.

Becker noted that he had already lost one employee because he could not offer a higher salary.

He said he felt he had room in his budget to accommodate the raise he was requesting, but he did not have specific budget information for commissioners. He also noted that he put together a conservative budget knowing the county didn't "have extra money."

Slaughter told Becker that Larson was "compensated at the level she should be" and said committee members would discuss it further with Becker in a private meeting.

Larson currently earns $15.60 per hour. The County Wage & Benefit Survey completed in 2017 by the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners and the South Dakota Planning Districts indicates that field appraisers in counties with a comparable population were making between $12.86 and $15.75 per hour in 2017.

Gust said Larson's training and years of service were taken into consideration in crafting the ideal wage scale study. She noted the Highway Department's salary increases were consistent with the ideal wage scale.

"It may not seem fair, but some jobs are valued more than others," Gust said.

Commissioner Deb Reinicke told Becker she was sorry he lost an employee, but the job responsibilities in the department which hired her were more stressful than those she had been doing in his department.

"It's the best we can do right now," Wollmann said.

In other business, the commission:

-- Approved an application for the Relay for Life to use the Lake County 4-H grounds on June 14 for the annual Relay for Life fund-raiser.

-- Approved an application for Trinity Lutheran Church to use the Lake County 4-H grounds from July 14-19 for day camp.

-- Approved a temporary malt beverage license for Sporty's Bar and Grill for a wedding reception and dance at Camp Lakodia on May 11.

-- Approved a resolution extending Lake County seasonal road restrictions to May 31. Fedeler said surrounding counties are also extending road restrictions. He anticipates lifting the restrictions prior to the end of May.

-- Approved hiring seasonal highway laborer Michael O'Connell at a salary of $17.60 per hour.

-- Approved four utility occupancy applications for Sioux Valley Energy. In each case, an overhead distribution line would cross a county road to reconstruct a main line damaged by the ice storm.

-- Approved a personnel transfer for Jan Hansen. She has been serving in the Lake County Equalization Office as an administrative assistant. She will work in 911 Communications as a dispatcher.

-- Approved hiring Erin Tisdall to serve as deputy auditor. She will replace Linda Walker who is retiring and will be paid $15.50 per hour.

-- Ratified the signatures of the SLA Quarterly Report submitted to the state Office of Emergency Management at the end of April.

-- Received a report from Emergency Management Director Kody Keefer, who said the preliminary damage assessment showed the county sustained $796,836 in damages from the ice storm and flooding earlier this year. He reported 405 locations were affected.

-- Approved a conditional use permit for East River Electric Power Cooperative to build a substation southeast of the intersection of 231st St. and 457th Ave. Paul Letsche with East River explained it would be a switching substation, not a distribution substation.

-- Approved platting Lots 16 and 17 of Tract A of Mader's 18th Addition in Herman Township for future single-family residential development.

-- Approved platting Lot 9 of Christiansen Sunrise Acres 2nd Addition in Lakeview Township for a future single family home.

-- Received an update on the electronic dropoff which was postponed due to weather. Mandi Anderson said she was planning to reschedule the event in the fall prior to hunting season.

-- Approved a resolution allowing State's Attorney Wendy Kloeppner to appoint Brookings County State's Attorney Dan Nelson to prosecute a case where her office has a conflict of interest.

-- Approved switching the county's health insurance from Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Avera. The new policy offers comparable benefits at a $112,000 savings to the county.

-- Received updates from Sheriff Tim Walburg regarding a Homeland Security grant which will be used to upgrade radio communications, the difficulty of collecting some taxes currently listed as delinquent, and jail overcrowding. He also talked about savings the department has achieved by finding a card which provides a discount on medications for prisoners, and by collecting an individual arrested out of state on an outstanding warrant rather than hiring a company to transport the prisoner to Lake County.

-- Accepted the resignation of Correctional Officer Austin Powell, who has agreed to work on a part-time basis as needed until a replacement has been hired.

-- Denied a request from Isaac Wilde of Wilde Air Service, LLC, to land aircraft on Lake County highways. Safety and road conditions were cited as reasons.

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