Four associations representing 1,000 employees in multiple Kent County departments have proposed wage increases totaling more than $24.3 million over the next five years.
The Kent County Board of Commissioners will vote Dec. 20 on whether to approve agreements between associations for 242 deputy sheriffs, 51 health department nurses, 339 court and clerk employees, and 368 staff in several other departments represented by the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.
This is in addition to the previously approved increase for the same period of nearly $1 million for 21 lieutenants and captains.
The contract changes are similar for each association.
Wages would increase by 2.5 percent for the next three years. Wages would be scheduled to increase by 2 percent for the final two years, though either party can reopen the negotiation in 2021 for the final two years.
Amy Rollston, Kent County human resources director, said about 30 percent of employees tend to be within the wage steps, while the rest are at the top of the scale.
The maximum health care retiree stipend will increase from $350 to $400 monthly for employees who retire in 2019 or after. Rollston said this will impact the general fund.
There are concerns from several Kent County commissioners, including David Bulkowski and Tom Antor, as to whether the increases are sustainable.
County Administrator Wayman Britt noted this year’s 4.3 percent increase of property tax revenue but added officials are continuing to avoid hedging liabilities, allowing wiggle room for an expected recession in the next year.
Rollston said the wage increases are designed to match cost of living growth rates and allow the county to be competitive in a tight labor market.
“We have to look at how do we create a balance between what we can afford and what we have to do in order to attract and retain people,” Rollston said.
Britt added: “At the end of the day, the (staff) are the most valuable thing we have. If we don't have staff, we don't operate.”
Commissioner Roger Morgan said he believes the increases are in line with the private sector but agreed officials should continue to monitor the finances.
“I just never want to get into a position where we're borrowing money to get into payroll,” Morgan said.
Rollston also noted the proposals were signed off by Stephen Duarte, county fiscal services director, meaning he believes the increases are reasonable and sustainable for the county.
All employees in each association have voted to ratify the proposed agreements.