YORK – The York County Commissioners took on the long, tedious task of setting salaries and wages for deputy county officials, department heads and the employees who are under the county board (not in departments led by an elected official).
Historically, this is one of the harder tasks the commissioners have to tackle each year as they determine what the county can afford while trying to pay fair wages to employees.
They didn’t have to set the salaries for the elected officials (sheriff, attorney, public defender, clerk, clerk of the district court, treasurer and assessor) because that is always done prior to the election cycle and those salaries are set for the four-year terms.
However, the deputy officials’ wages are revisited each and every year.
York County Commissioner Randy Obermier reminded the board members how state law calls for the deputy officials to be paid at least 65% of their elected official’s salary.
The following were recommendations made by elected officials regarding their deputies:
Grotz noted, however, that the county attorney was recommending a much larger increase for his deputy than was being suggested for the other elected officials’ departments.
“For the deputy county attorney, the recommended amount is a fair size of an increase,” Grotz said. “Chris (Johnson) is in that role and yes, does a great job. That position now pays $104,080 (with $40,000 being contributed from the child support fund).”
“I agree with Daniel (Grotz),” said Commissioner Randy Obermier. “We asked officials to try to keep their increases at 3% and if they had to go higher to stay at about $1 an hour. And I realize not all positions are the same – they are very different from each other and warrant different levels of pay. I have talked with our human resources firm about conducting a wage study which I think would be very beneficial. It would show what we are up against and would be helpful to us to know where we stand.”
“I do have some heartburn setting the recommended salary for the deputy county attorney at that level,” said Grotz. “The county attorney made that recommendation, yes. And I know Chris does a great job for us, so this isn’t about anything he’s doing or not doing. But this would be a 10% increase, which is a large jump from where we have asked everyone to be.”
It was noted by Obermier that if that increase for the deputy attorney were to be made, he would actually be making more money than the county attorney himself.
“Gary (York County Attorney Olson) made the recommendation,” Obermier said. “This is one of those times it’s hard to make comparisons. He automatically assumes the role as coroner and many other duties than we will ever see. It should also be said that Gary feels so strongly about this recommendation that he offered to have his own salary cut, but the salary for the county attorney has already been set for four years.”
“I could be talked into a $2,080 increase based on a $1 an hour raise,” said Grotz.
It was noted that a 3% increase would equate to a $107,840 salary.
“I still have trouble with the deputy making more than the county attorney,” said Commissioner Stan Boehr. “I say leave it at $104,699.”
“These are always the fun times,” said Obermier.
“This is part of being a public employer,” Grotz added.
“Gary is comfortable in his recommendation so I have no problem with him (county attorney) making less than his deputy because he sees what goes on in that office,” Obermier said. “I’d be more confident in a 3% increase.”
“And we have to remember that, unfortunately, the business up there, in that office, is not going to be reduced any time soon,” added Commissioner Woody Ziegler.
First the commissioners voted on increasing the deputy county attorney’s salary to $107,840 based on a 3% raise. Commissioners Jack Sikes, Ziegler and Obermier voted yes, with Boehr and Grotz voting no.
Then they voted in favor (with Grotz voting no) for the following wages for the deputy county officials:
“If you want to see the county’s benefit package for employees, you can go to our new website, to the employment tab and you can see the package which is a really nice benefit package,” Obermier said, noting the value of the benefit package is about another 30% of what an employee makes in straight pay.
He also reminded the board how the commissioners gave substantial raises to county employees back in 2021 – in many cases, $2-$3 an hour. “And we know to continue at that rate is not sustainable.”
Department heads did performance evaluations on their employees and made recommendations for raises, but as it was noted by the commissioners, some of those recommendations came with 6 ½% increases.
“It’s never fun to be the bad guy, but to continue to increase with such significant jumps can’t be sustainable,” said Grotz, “so eventually, that has to quit. We want to retain our help and absolutely pay them what they are worth. But we have to slow it down a bit. They wage study will be very helpful in the future – it may be eye-opening for us or the employees or both.”
Ziegler asked how 3% increases for employees would affect the overall budget, as they continue to work to cut costs.
“It’s a line we have to walk and find a place where we treat the employees fairly and also answer to our constituents,” Grotz said. “There are calls that come in where taxpayers say give the employees more and others say don’t increase the wages too much.”
“And like Randy (Obermier) said, the benefits package equates to 30% of their pay and that’s not getting any cheaper either,” Ziegler added.
“I don’t think we are over-paying but I also don’t think we are that far off when you look at the benefit package,” Obermier said.
Boehr said he wanted to see merit-based recommendations used, so good employees would be rewarded. Ziegler said he agreed.
Boehr also added that he’s heard discontent about some workers getting paid higher wages than those in other departments.
“But you can’t compare the different departments because some are completely different,” Obermier said. “For example, the emergency call center, the sheriff’s department, they are on call 24-7, 365 days a year. Those are completely different animals.”
The commissioners reduced some of the recommended amounts to get within a 3-4% range of increase, while going with some recommendations which came in with 3% increases.
When it came time to consider the pay for non-elected department heads, Obermier said the county’s HR firm said some would have to be paid salary and some would have to be paid hourly, based on their duties. It was confirmed that if a department head’s primary duty was manual labor, they had to be paid hourly while the others who did office work were to be paid salary. It was determined then that the maintenance director and the weed superintendent would be hourly and the rest would have to be salary.
In the end, all the department heads got raises (in the range of 3%) with the following amounts set for the 2023-24 fiscal year:
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