County wage hikes before commission


    Kent County commissioners will decide Thursday whether to give the county’s lowest-paid, non-unionized employees a raise for next year. Board members declined to do that last year when roughly 80 full-time positions were slated for elimination as an effort to trim expenses from the county’s general operating budget.

    But last week members of the county’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee approved a pay hike for those workers; an increase that County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said would range from 1.75 percent to 3.5 percent, depending on the outcome of an employee’s job evaluation.

    A subcommittee chaired by Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parish recommended the increase that includes an across-the-board 1.25 percent raise and a 0.73 percent hike in the payroll for 205 workers in the lowest 2.5 tiers of the six salary ranges.

    “The 1.25 percent is across the board, which is what the UAW is getting,” said Don Clack, county human resources director, who also served on the subcommittee. Clack added that the rest of the increase was to make up for the employees not receiving a raise this year when the county’s unionized workers did receive small increases. The raises have been estimated at costing the county general operating budget almost $487,500 next year. The budget is currently facing a deficit of $9.2 million for 2011.

    “I think it’s recognition to this group that we appreciate their work,” said Commissioner Stan Ponstein.

    “We value our employees. We need to take care of them as best we can,” added Commissioner Ted Vonk, also committee chairman.

    But Commissioner Brandon Dillon pointed out that board members took a 10 percent pay cut and some unions have agreed to give back half their scheduled raises for next year, so he thought the non-union workers in the top pay tiers should have their salaries reduced to cover the increase to the lowest wage earners. “People at the top need to make a shared sacrifice,” Dillon said.

    Commissioner Bill Hirsch said that even though he doesn’t like the idea of handing out pay raises now, he doesn’t want to see any employee receive a salary cut. If commissioners do approve the increases, employees would have the cost of their family dental insurance coverage go up from $2,200 a year to $2,300 next year.

    Committee members also agreed last week to remove coverage for elective abortions from the county’s medical benefit plans by a 9-0 vote; the measure isn’t expected to go before the full commission for a vote. Each bargaining unit will be asked to give up that coverage for next year. If a unit doesn’t agree, the coverage will be eliminated during a union’s next negotiating round.

    Members took that action because they felt paying for abortions with taxpayer dollars was inconsistent with the values and beliefs of a large majority of county residents. “This isn’t a political issue. This is not a bargaining issue. We’re asking the bargaining units to make a choice,” said Ponstein. “When I came on as a commissioner, no one told me I had to check my Christian faith and moral beliefs at the door.”

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