Kent County commissioners approve wage increases


    The lowest-paid, non-unionized workers at Kent County will get a small wage increase beginning on Jan. 1, which marks the start of the county’s 2011 fiscal year.

    County commissioners approved an across-the-board hike of 1.25 percent for 205 employees last week, along with a 0.73 percent increase to their overall payroll that will be distributed individually on a merit basis to those workers.

    County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio estimated that each worker will get a raise that will range from 1.75 percent to 3.5 percent, with the exact percentage being determined by an employee’s job evaluation and position in the salary scale. The evaluations will be conducted in December. These employees, who are in the bottom 2.5 categories of the six pay levels, did not receive a raise this year. Commissioners rejected increasing their salaries last December.

    Still, the approval didn’t come easily. Motions made by Commissioners Keith Courtade and Bob Synk were defeated. Courtade, who said the wage-increase request should have come to the board when the labor unions gave up half their negotiated hikes months ago, wanted to limit all raises to 2.5 percent for 2011 and 2012. Synk wanted the overall increase to be paid for by pay cuts to those in the top 3.5 salary categories and he moved to table the vote until that became part of the request. The motion from Courtade didn’t get any support, while Synk’s was voted down by a 14-5 margin.

    “I can understand Commissioner Courtade’s concerns, but we also need to support the employees,” said Commissioner Bill Hirsch.

    Commissioners Brandon Dillon said he didn’t mind the small increase, but he said approving it would send the wrong message to taxpayers in an election year. “This is not going to go over well. It’s not acceptable,” he said “Taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill for (almost) $500,000.”

    Dillon also said the overall increase should be paid for by salary cuts to the county’s top-level managers. “They’re not making personal sacrifices,” he said. But Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish said the management team has taken on a bigger workload because of worker layoffs and their actions have saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We have asked our senior managers to step up and they’ve stepped up in a big way,” she said.

    Commissioner Dick Bulkowski pointed out that the increases the lowest-paid workers have received over the past 10 years have been smaller than the hikes that employees in the higher salary categories have gotten. “This is a matter of fairness,” he said. Bulkowski also said the concessions the bargaining units made this spring, when they gave up half their increases for next year, was only a “partial” concession. He said a full concession would have been if they had agreed to freeze their salaries.

    “I’m looking at this as our last (salary) adjustment,” said Commissioner Tom Antor, who added that the county’s commitment to freeze wages has seemingly become a moving target. “This is a tough one for me, but I’ll support it.”

    The minimum pay scales for these employees range from roughly $31,500 to $58,000 a year. The total estimated cost for the pay raises next year is $487,424, an amount that has already been included in the county’s 2011 proposed budget. The county’s general operating budget has a projected deficit of $9.2 million for the coming fiscal year, a shortfall that the Finance Committee and county commission will tackle this fall.

    A subcommittee reviewed the workers’ pay scale and recommended the increase, which was also approved by the county’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee. Parrish chaired the subcommittee. Antor, Bulkowski, and Commissioners Pete Hickey and Dick Vander Molen served with Parrish on the subcommittee.

    The employees who receive raises will also pay more for their dental coverage, as that premium will go up next year from $2,200 to $2,300.

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