Park County will be looking for a little give and take from its employees in the next budget year. A committee comprised of county employees recently presented their best ideas to make it happen.
On April 6, the Park County commissioners unanimously approved doubling the amount of wage points on the employee pay step scale from 15 to 30 by splitting it into halves, thus doubling the amount of years employees can receive raises and step levels at which raises can be given. This does not make any change to base or max pay and full step raises are still allowed under the change.
Park County Engineer Brian Edwards equated the changes to an “inflation step,” in that it provides department managers and the commissioners more flexibility to grant raises.
“I think it benefits the employees in that you could be more generous in giving a half step as opposed to a full step,” commissioner Scott Mangold said. “It would give you a little more ammo as far as keeping good employees and making sure you’re rewarding the good people you’ve got working for you.”
Park County Planning and Zoning Director Joy Hill said movement along the step schedule is still an issue that needs some clarification.
“It’s very uncertain right now with all this CARES money and where we can spend it and how we can spend it, but at some point in time in the not-too-distant future, we’re going to be faced with a lot budgetary problems, so we need to set ourselves up in a position that we have a pay scale that attracts good quality people that we can keep,” commissioner Joe Tilden said.
The county has been promised $5.6 million in additional funding through the American Recovery Plan, but two months after the announcement was made, there still has been no direction from the U.S. Treasury as to what this money can be spent on and when it will hit local coffers.
Recruit and retain
Edwards said new Department of Transportation changes that will increase the cost for those performing mandatory training and certifications needed in order to obtain a commercial driver’s license will cause a trickle-down effect on the wages the county must offer to get applicants.
“That’s what we’re up against in road and bridge,” Edwards said. “It’s a skill level higher than what we’re paying now.”
Commissioner Dossie Overfield said in conversations with Park County Sheriff Scott Steward, she learned how difficult it is for his department to recruit and retain employees.
“Even after he gets the applicants hired, it’s extremely hard to keep them because our pay scale is $3-$4 less than other law enforcement agencies in the area and the state,” Overfield said. “We get them, we put them through the academy, then they might stay a week or two or four.”
Park County Landfill Manager Greg Palmersheim said recruiting employees for the landfill has also been difficult. He said there were no qualified employees for a recent job posting, so he hired an elderly former employee on a provisional basis. Edwards said filling part-time and provisional positions has also been a challenge for the landfill, with some employees making as little as $13.48 per hour. The role of part-time litter pickers will carry a heightened importance this summer as plastic bag buildup has become increasingly hard to manage and contain at the facility.
“I believe our wages are undervalued for what you’re asking us to do,” Palmersheim said.
For most positions, the landfill pays less than what employees receive in Washakie County, City of Sheridan, and City of Casper landfills, according to a study performed by the Park County public works department.
Commissioner Lee Livingston agreed with Edwards and Palmersheim’s viewpoint and said it does not equate to be paying an employee around $15 per hour to run a $500,000 piece of equipment.
The commissioners also approved $56,640 in total salary increases for non-benefit cook and custodial positions at the Detention Center, two road and bridge staff positions, as well as $35,000 in total wage increases for the landfill by making an adjustment to their entire step and grade scale.
Retirement and raises
The Wyoming Retirement System is raising the required total contribution for all counties by .5% on July 1, an addition the county is now asking its employees to shoulder. This will save the county $25,700 annually but cost each employee about $215 per year.
Elected officials would be excluded from having to pay this cost increase until their salaries are adjusted next year, as this can only be set on a four-year schedule, per state statute.
The commissioners approved capping the county-paid portion of the Wyoming Retirement at the current 18.12% for general employees and 17.2% for law enforcement personnel. The county currently pays 100% of the employees’ retirement contribution.
Overfield said the county has picked up increases to the state’s contribution demand in years’ past. She said there was consideration for lowering the percent the county contributes, but said it would be better not to take away benefits.
“Most of the time, once you’ve granted a benefit to an employee, you don’t take it back,” Overfield said.
Compared to other Wyoming counties, Park County has been one of the more generous ones when it comes to retirement contributions, as about half the state’s counties pay 100%.
Even though Park County will be now asking for .5%, this is still a much smaller contribution than the 9.12% and 8.12% asked of employees in Sublette and Uinta counties, respectively.
A health committee representing the employees indicated in a written proposal to the commissioners they would “hope” this change would be implemented with consideration for pay raises in the future. Overfield said a 2-3% cost of living adjustment raise is specifically what they have in mind, which would be implemented with the intent of covering the new retirement cost for current employees. In the May 4 commissioner meeting, Livingston made an informal verbal commitment to increasing employee pay in some form.
“I’m not sure you could get an answer (appropriate wage) for someone to be where the employee feels they need to be, but this is better than where we were,” Edwards said. “We’re still in a better spot than where we were even a year ago.”
Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said he would like department heads to have flexibility to leave a separate pool for employees they feel deserve a merit raise.
“If you have one or two that really stand out, that need and deserve to move up, you can move them up two steps,” he said.