New Hawkins salary scale on hold, but some employees may get a bigger COLA

Jeff Bobo • Jul 16, 2018 at 3:15 PM

ROGERSVILLE — It’s a little late in the 2018-19 budget process to attempt massive salary scale changes that would affect 97 Hawkins County employees who aren’t eligible to receive annual step pay raises.

But a slim majority of county commissioners who attended Friday’s Personnel Committee meeting agreed to double the proposed cost of living adjustment (COLA) for those 97 workers.

The commission was already proposing to give all employees (not including those in the county school system), a 2 percent COLA in the 2018-19 budget.

By a vote of 6-5, the commission agreed Friday to add a 4 percent COLA to the proposed budget for those 97 employees as a token of good faith while the commission considers a permanent solution to their “unfair” salary scale.  

The main discussion at Friday’s meeting, however, focused on that salary scale imposed on county employees in 2014 (excluding the sheriff’s office, highway department and school system) which doesn’t allow annual step pay increases.

Seventy-eight of the employees affected by that salary scale are in the offices of county clerk, clerk of courts, chancery court, trustee, register of deeds, property assessor, elections and county mayor, among others. Nineteen work in the solid waste department.

Trustee Jim Shanks, who served as a spokesman for the officeholders and department heads, admitted that it’s too late in the game to get something done about that salary scale in the current budget.

The 11 commissioners who attended Friday’s meeting agreed with Shanks that discussions regarding a new salary scale should be postponed until October.

The main complaint against the scale is that — unlike employees in the sheriff’s office, highway department and school system — these 97 employees have no chance to improve their pay unless the commission approves a COLA.

Shanks noted that when officeholders and department heads are interviewing potential new employees, the applicants ask what their pay will be in five, seven, or 10 years — the answer is basically the same pay they’re making on their first day.

Commissioners were presented with a proposed pay scale developed by the officeholders and department heads that would cost more than $662,260 annually as a 10 year plan; or more than $451,642 annually as a 15 year plan.

In the 15 year plan, each step on the salary scale would increase about 3 percent until employees top out.

“The objective is to provide a salary plan that treats all general fund employees fairly,” Shanks said. “That’s the key word to this entire thing. Fairness. That’s all we want.”

As for the added recurring cost, Shanks noted that the new AEP development on the east end of the county is expected to start generating as much as $750,000 annually in property tax within the next couple of years.

He said officeholders also want to be able to recruit experienced, qualified employees, which is difficult under the current scale. For example, a grade six starting salary in the current scale is a little more than $21,000.

“We need to make sure that starting pay at a bank four doors down isn’t $4 more an hour than people who have been here five years are making,” Shanks said.

The proposal also makes the Personnel Committee responsible for approving salary scale classification change requests, which are currently approved or denied by the consultant who designed the current salary scale in  2014.

“I think you guys are smart enough to make decisions for the county,” Shanks told commissioners. “It keeps our business in-house, instead of shipping it two or three counties away.”

Commissioner Danny Alvis made the motion to increase the cost of living adjustment for the 97 employees from 2 to 4 percent in the 2018-19 budget.

County Finance Director Eric Buchanan estimated the cost of that increase at $40,000.

The motion was approved Friday 6-5, but it will also have to be approved by the full commission when the final budget comes up for a vote.

Commissioners in favor included Avis, Syble Vaughan-Trent, Eugene Christian, Glenda Davis, Joe McLain and Stacy Vaughan.

Commissioners who voted against the 4 percent cost of living raise of the 97 employees included Nancy Barker, Jeff Barrett, Fred Castle, Mike Herrell and Bob Palmer.

The proposed 2018-19 budget already has a $100,000 deficit, which would be increased to $140,000 by this measure. Barker told her fellow commissioners the budget will be in the same condition it was two years ago if they keep adding recurring expenses.