Sullivan official wants officeholders’ pay raise to go to all county employees

J. H. Osborne • May 13, 2013 at 12:03 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — At least one Sullivan County officeholder thinks all the county’s employees should get the same pay increase he and others get automatically under state law — and that they should get it at the same time.

Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns told a group of Sullivan County commissioners last week that it is time the county links all its employees’ pay to whatever increase is given to state employees in the prior year.

Kern has long been an advocate of improving the pay for county employees — who have only had one increase in several years and who no longer receive any longevity pay increases.

Under state law now, all constitutional officeholders (such as Kerns, the county mayor, the county sheriff, the county clerk, the register of deeds, the county trustee, and the highway commissioner) receive an automatic pay raise equal to whatever state employees have received in the prior budget year.

The Sullivan County Commission voted a few years ago to add itself to that gravy train. Now all 24 commissioners get whatever pay boost comes to the constitutional officeholders (so named because their positions are spelled out in the state constitution).

In his own departmental budget request for the county’s fiscal year that begins July 1, Kerns is seeking about $62,000 in order to extend to his employees the same 4.6 percent pay increase constitutional officeholders will receive beginning July 1.

“All employees need to be treated the same and any increases for county officials should also be granted to all county employees,” Kerns wrote in his budget request.

He also wrote a letter to county commissioners last month asking that all county employees be given that 4.6 percent pay raise — and that the county also reinstate the longevity program, which was eliminated seven years ago at the same time the commission either did or did not approve a countywide pay plan.

Some commissioners believe the commission approved a pay plan, which was developed after the county hired an outside consultant to perform an independent evaluation of county employee pay rates.

Others, however, say the commission got that study, approved a one-time pay raise that year and ended longevity pay — and made no promises about actually instituting the pay plan.

Kerns said if it is true that the pay plan was never approved, that means the county simply does not have a pay plan for its employees.

Kerns said employees deserve to know where they stand and to be able to plan on at least getting a longevity increase in years when no cost of living increase occurs.

A longevity plan provides an annual increase to each employee based on years of service. An example is $100 per year or service — and such plans often are capped at 15 or 20 years of service. So, under that example, an employee who has been with the county for 11 years would know they would get a $1,100 raise in the coming year.

Kerns said linking employee cost of living pay raises to the state rate would put everyone on equal footing — some years state employees don’t get any pay raise, and in the subsequent year constitutional officeholders in the county get nothing. That would extend to county employees in those years, Kerns said — but in years when constitutional officeholders get a pay raise, like the 4.6 percent one coming July 1, employees would know they were getting the same thing.

Kerns spoke to the County Commission’s Administrative Committee on Wednesday. The next night, Commissioner Pat Shull asked to speak to the Budget Committee — and suggested recent controversy over employee pay means it’s time for the county to spend the money to have an outside source perform and independent study of county employee pay rates.

Under a lawsuit settlement approved in court late last month, Sheriff Wayne Anderson’s employees already will get a 2 percent pay raise, retroactive to Apr. 1 and extending into the next fiscal year.

When that settlement was announced, County Mayor Steve Godsey said the county commission would be asked to extend that 2 percent pay raise to all county employees with the start of the next budget cycle on July 1.

There has since been a push from some county commissioners to extend the 2 percent raise to all county employees — and make it also retroactive to Apr. 1.

A 2 percent raise for all county employees will cost about $642,000 per year, including benefits, according to the county’s payroll office.

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