By David Slone
WARSAW — Before approving the various 2024 budgets department by department, section by section over nearly a three-hour meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 12, the Kosciusko County Council approved the wage committee’s recommendations unanimously.
In presenting the wage recommendations, Councilwoman Sue Ann Mitchell said several meetings were held by the committee to write the recommendations.
The recommendations included a full-time position for the American Rescue Plan Act Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program community coordinator at a professional administrative technical IV II at two years of service on the salary chart.
“We support the prosecutor’s request for two new positions — legal assistant/secretary and a trial support paralegal. This need was reinforced by (Clerk) Ann Torpy’s reduction of two employees. When Ann spoke with us, she encouraged us to add two positions in the prosecutor’s office. These positions will be established as COMOT (clerical) II positions,” Mitchell said.
The committee also approved recommending the property tax assessment board of appeals coordinator be moved to a COMOT I due to the “important responsibilities of that position that require a great deal of knowledge in processing,” she said.
The committee agreed to continuing the public health specialist position in the health department as a part-time job. That position will be moved to the PAT VI level at the 10-year level of service.
They also supported the highway department hiring one new office staff position in March 2024 through March 2025 in preparation for the two current employees retiring at the same time in 2025. They are at the PAT VI level. The position established for 2024 and overlapping into 2025 will be eliminated and the budget will return to two office staff people in 2025.
“There may be a possibility of some part-time office hours being needed in 2025 if there should be any additional training needed by the new office staff,” Mitchell stated.
The wage committee agreed to establish the same per diem for each county board with the exception of the election board and annual merit board amounts.
Mitchell said, “The committee recommends a flat amount of $2,000 for 2024 raises instead of a percentage raise. This will help close the widening gap that impacts lower-paid employees.”
She said the committee also tried to establish a job classification for all part-time employees who perform the same job as full-time employees and pay them equally per hour based on their job experience.
Part-time positions are to conform to the personnel policy for the number of hours that they would be allowed to work.
The part-time budget amounts will be approved at the amount requested with the pay controlled by way of the hourly salary ordinance. When the hours are established for each position, the budgets will be aligned appropriately, Mitchell said.
Cathy Reed, county human resources director, will be working with each department that has part-time money to be able to identify the number of hours that they actually need. Mitchell said the council will approve those.
“If employees have served in another department and transferred to a position unrelated to their prior experience within the county and were given credit for their years of service in the prior department, they will be grandfathered in and will advance when their years of service in the current position exceed the step where they started on the salary chart,” she said.
Future transfers from positions with unrelated job duties will be evaluated for their skill level and years of service and will be paid accordingly.
“It is recommended that each part-time position have an individual account number so only one person is paid out of each part-time account so it can be readily tracked and we’ll have a much-better handle on the money that is actually being spent,” she said.
Councilman Dave Wolkins said he liked the fact the county was giving a flat allowance rather than a percentage “because the higher-paid employees get a whole lot more than the lower-paid. I like that concept very much.”
Councilwoman Kathleen Groninger said she liked it, too, but it didn’t address the sheriff’s department.
Mitchell said that was correct and there was another caveat to it.
“The sheriff’s department will be receiving not the $2,000 but will be receiving $5,000. It will include all of the public servant people, so that will include the jailers, dispatchers, work release, sheriff’s department,” she said.
The clerical staff of the sheriff’s department are not included as they will receive the $2,000 allowance.
Council President Mike Long asked Mitchell to elaborate on why the sheriff’s department was being treated differently.
“A year ago we sat down and worked on salaries for the sheriff’s department. We realized the money was not near as beneficial to the employees as what other department wages are. So we agreed a year ago that we would try to continue to move that up to where it was a competitive wage. We feel like this is going to help move that along,” Mitchell said.
Councilwoman Kimberly Cates, who also sits on the wage committee, said they also felt like everyone in the sheriff’s department — whether at the jail, on patrol or on a 911 call — are dealing with the public “and we need to reward them as best as we can.”
The end result will be the county’s cash outlay will be somewhere around $900,000 for employees, Mitchell estimated.
“So we’re trying to keep those wages up so that we have qualified employees,” she said.
An employee who makes $40,000 annually will be getting a 5% raise with the $2,000 allowance. An employee making $80,000 will be getting a 2.5% raise, but they’re still getting the same amount, Mitchell said. “I think we just felt like it was fair and equitable,” she said.
The county went 20 years only giving percentage raises, she told the council, and a few years ago the county had to make a correction and that cost the county a huge amount of money. Mitchell said if they continue to monitor it, they will be better able to keep the wages in-line.
Councilwoman Joni Truex, also on the wage committee, said they also hope the increases will help with retention.
“And, also, I really feel strongly that our employees are the most important thing we have. We have to take care of them,” she said.
Mitchell made a motion to approve the wage committee recommendations, Truex seconded it and it was approved 7-0.
Along with Mitchell, Truex and Cates, the wage committee includes County Commissioner Brad Jackson.
The budget figures have already been advertised on Gateway, so the only actions the council could take on the budgets Tuesday were to approve them as presented or cut them.
The council’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14. The budget adoption is scheduled for the Oct. 12 meeting.