County may address turnover with raises

Significant turnover is prompting the Bartholomew County Council to reconsider a second effort to approve larger salaries for most county employees.

When this year’s budget was finalized in October, only council members Jorge Morales and Mark Gorbett voted in favor of a 5% increase for more than 400 employees. Other members, including Greg Duke and Scott Bonnell, supported a 3.5% pay hike.

But since then, Duke and Bonnell have been replaced on the seven-member council by Republicans Greg Patterson and Leah Beyer.

After Morales was made council president and Gorbett was voted in as president pro-tem, Gorbett departed from the agenda by first noting other government units were providing large raises this year due largely to inflation.

“We watched surrounding counties, and even in our city, approve a 6% to 7% raise for our public service officers,” Gorbett said. “In talking with (Patterson and Beyer), I’ve learned there were concerns in our community about retaining our people with a decent salary.”

Both Gorbett and Morales say they believe at least four of the seven council members will support an additional 3% raise during a vote next month to raise most salaries of county employees by 6.5%.

Morales also announced that the council will discuss the possibility of hiring a human resources director for the county during their Feb. 6 work session.

Morales and Gorbett plan to advertise their proposal for the pay hike that will be made retroactive back to Jan. 1. The new council president says he hopes to have a vote on the matter during their public meeting as early as next month.

So how much will these raises cost?

“Somewhere in the ballpark of $750,000 a year, so we have plenty of money in our funds to cover it,” Bartholomew County Auditor Pia O’Connor said. “I do believe we short-changed our employees at budget time when inflation is as high as it is.”

During Monday’s discussion, Sheriff Chris Lane made a case for the raises.

While 15 new workers were hired last year to reopen the oldest section of the county jail, Lane says he has lost 14 members of the corrections staff. In essence, that means which means one staff is operating two jails.

“We have people tell us they are tired of working 70 to 80 hours because we have forced mandated overtime,” Lane said. “We’ve lost 64 civilian employees in three years. While we received 179 applications, only 56 showed up for interviews.”

After background checks are made on those who are interviewed, the list of prospective employees “gets whittled down pretty fast,” he said.

Bartholomew County Commissioner’s chairman Tony London told the council he considers the hiring of a human resources position as critical for a number of reasons, including the need to have an administrator explain benefits to new employees.

On Monday, Patterson voiced support for the pay hike and Buyer expressed surprise at the extent of employee turnover, adding there’s a need “to stop the bleeding.”

However, Beyer listed several questions she wants answered before casting a vote. That includes an assurance that the county will continue to have the ability to pay its bills, she said.

Two council members, Bill Lentz and Matt Miller, maintained that it’s not always money that prompts a county worker to leave their position.

“If you take an employee who is unhappy and continue to throw money at him – but the problem is poor leadership, poor management and no job satisfaction – they are still going to quit,” Miller said.

“One thing we never do is talk about budget reduction from paying off the jail,” Lentz said. “The reason we have (more than adequate finances) is that taxes go up, up, up. I want a commitment that we’ll do something for both the employees and the taxpayers.”

“I’ve talked to Bill about this,” Gorbett said. “What he wants to do is cut taxes.”

In earlier meetings, Lentz had expressed the same idea.

After commenting on what she perceives as a poor work ethic in both the private and public sectors, Evelyn Pence said she is not in favor of changing budgets at this time.

Councilman Matt Miller acknowledged inflation is damaging household finances, adding that employees are the county’s greatest asset.

“As of today, I’m not a strong ‘yes’, but I’m also not a strong ‘no’,” Miller said.

Miller said he would like to see exact numbers on the reasons for the county’s high turnover. He also expressed a dislike for approving raises outside of the normal budget cycle, which usually begins in August and concludes in October.