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Bartholomew County employees will have to wait until later this week to learn how big of an across-the-board pay raise County Council members think they can afford to add to paychecks in 2014.
First, the seven-person County Council has to finish reviewing departments’ budget requests, which are roughly $1.7 million more than the $16.7 million projected to be available in the general fund from county revenues next year.
Council President Jorge Morales said the seven-person council will meet from 4 to 9 p.m. today and Thursday to discuss further budget cuts, possible pay raises and other issues crucial to the 2014 budget.
The council met for three days last week, hearing pitches for 4 or 5 percent pay increases from many department heads.
That level of pay increase would be substantially more than county employees have seen in any of the past four years. Employees got a 2.5 percent pay raise for 2013; 2 percent in 2012; no raise in 2011; and $1,000 across the board in 2010.
A 1 percent pay raise for all equals about $107,000 in additional payroll costs per year, Morales said.
“The budget is going to be a balancing act,” Morales said, adding that deciding how big of a pay hike is possible will be one of the final choices the council makes in its preliminary meetings this week. Still ahead are a pair of public budget hearings and votes by the council on a final budget document in September and again in October.
A general pay raise for all employees is just one of a number of unresolved key financial decisions.
Pay parity for deputies
Another key debate will be over how much extra to pay deputies working for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Mark Gorbett has been pushing for agreement on a proposal to boost the base pay for patrol personnel by $218.40 per year and officers’ pay by as much as $3,335 per year — depending on rank — to bring them in line with comparable city police pay rates.
The sheriff argues that his department is losing good candidates to the Columbus Police Department and other agencies that have better pay and benefits.
Gorbett also wants extra cash incentives for employees with college credits or military service. Military incentive pay and college pay would add just under $46,000 combined to the first budget year, officials said.
Boosting base pay for patrol officers, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and majors to match city police rates would add another $48,777 to the budget, officials said.
Morales and other council members couldn’t agree last week on what or how much to grant the Sheriff’s Department.
“The sheriff is asking for parity, but we have to be fair to all of the county employees,” the council president said. “We may not do all of what he wants.”
Council member Ryan D. Lauer said he would like to see enough pay incentives added for sheriff’s deputies to draw more applicants to the department.
“This isn’t a race between us and other government entities,” Lauer said. “It’s about having a pay scale that helps us keep the best, most qualified people. It’s important that there’s a path for new employees in the Sheriff’s Department to grow and move up the ladder.”
Gorbett is trying to establish a sliding scale that gives up to $1,400 a year extra to employees with a certain amount of military service and up to $2,800 a year based on hours of college credit or degrees achieved.
Morales said he’s uncertain about allowing up to a $2,800 per year bonus for college credits “because we’re not offering that same thing to anybody else. It’s a matter of fairness. If we do it for one and not for all, I think we’d be creating disparity in the county.”
Other council members said it may be necessary to pick and choose from among the various pay proposals Gorbett has put forth.
Council member Chris Ogle said he values military incentive pay for law enforcement work more than he does basing any bonus pay on college credit hours.
Lauer said incentives for younger deputies are more important to him than higher base pay rates for captains, lieutenants and other officers.
“We’re not having trouble retaining officers. But it’s a big factor especially at the patrolman’s rank, whether someone even submits an application to us,” Lauer said.
Higher pay equals ‘hope’
Departmental spending requests submitted at this early stage of budget work total roughly $18.44 million for the general fund, according to records compiled by the county auditor last week.
Based on projected revenues for 2014, county financial adviser Dan Eggermann told council members they have about $16.7 million in general fund money to tap without having to dip into reserve funds. That means $1.7 million has to be cut from requests to balance the budget.
Council member Evelyn Pence said the county still must be careful about spending, and one of its primary goals is not to deplete a reserve fund that could reach as much as $6.1 million next year to safeguard against emergencies, unexpected shortfalls in revenue or other problems.
Morales said one reason council members hope to offer all county employees some sort of pay boost is because their health insurance deductibles are likely to go up significantly this fall when a new enrollment period for the county government’s self-insured health plan opens on Dec. 1. How much the pay raise turns out to be remains to be seen, though.
“We all realize a 4 percent pay raise request is probably a little high,” Ogle said at one of the hearings last week. “But at least it gives employees a little hope.”
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